I am now halfway through my time here in Portugal! The term seems to have gone so quickly and my exams are now fast approaching, but that hasn’t stopped me from doing a bit of tourism in the north of Portugal.
Last week I got back from spending the Easter holidays at home in England, but before I went, I managed to see Braga all decked out for the religious holiday. Portugal has a very Catholic history and you can still see how this has left a mark on the country as you go through the streets; you can barely walk 100m without coming across a church! The religious aspects of the country are particularly visible here in Braga, which is an old and conservative city, and the seat of the Catholic church in Portugal. I myself am not religious, but it was quite interesting to see the streets decorated with purple banners and the churches bathed in purple floodlights during Semana Santa, or Holy Week.
One place in Braga that I would have loved to visit during Semana Santa was Bom Jesus do Monte, a sanctuary on the hillside (also voted the city’s top tourist attraction). It’s a long and quite steep walk up there, including a climb of over 500 steps, but the view once you’re up there is really cool. From the entirety of the city below, you can see the hill and its two sanctuaries (Bom Jesus and Sameiro, the latter also finds itself in the top 5 visitor attractions in Braga) and over the Easter period you could see Bom Jesus lit up with a purple floodlight, which would have been amazing to see up close too.
Walking to Bom Jesus is a lovely activity to do on a sunny afternoon (not too hot though otherwise you’ll sweat like a pig, I’ve been told anyway *ahem*, definitely not learnt from experience). Even though I’m an atheist, I can of course appreciate the architecture in the church and the beautiful gardens that surround it, and it really is no wonder that it’s the city’s number one attraction. One afternoon my friend and I even took the plunge and walked an extra 3km uphill to the Sameiro sanctuary, where the views of the city were even more impressive and the sunsets are apparently even more so. The fact that the top 5 tourist attractions in Braga are churches really makes you understand why Braga is referred to as the “Portuguese Rome”.
Not too far away from Braga is a tiny city called Guimarães, which is where the other campus of our university is located. Our university induction day was there, but because it was such a rainy day, we didn’t really get the best impression of the city. So, a few weeks later, once the horrible rain was finally over, we took a trip to Guimarães for a guided tour that a university student there was doing. The sun was shining and we walked around the quaint city centre, seeing where princes and kings had lived, and posing for photos in front of the old city walls where the words Aqui nasceu Portugal (Portugal was born here) are written. There is some dispute over whether or not this is true, but many Portuguese people (especially those from Guimarães and the north in general) say that the battle between Portugal and Spain for the former to become its own country was fought and won in Guimarães, which is one of the reasons why it is regarded as such an important city.
Another important nearby city which I mentioned in my previous post is Porto. I have been back a few times since I first arrived in Portugal and it still hasn’t lost its charm. Porto is the second biggest city in the country, and is still even smaller than Cardiff, which just shows that Portugal is a very small country. Despite it being quite small, there is a lot to do there! My favorite area is definitely Ribeira, which is down by the river. Sitting in a café along here or even just sitting on a bench by the boats is lovely, especially in the sun. Of course, you can’t forget to visit the churches (there are quite literally hundreds of them) and cathedrals in Porto (yes, there are two cathedrals in this small city) and another of the most impressive buildings is actually the main train station in the city centre. São Bento station has walls that are covered in thousands of azulejos, which are small tiles. The azulejos in São Bento form a picture that shows D. Henrique (the same king that won the battle for Portugal to become its own country) at war, only in the colours blue and white.
This week, on the 25th of April, Portugal celebrated its national holiday, or Dia da Liberdade. This day commemorates the day of the Revolução dos Cravos (Carnation Revolution) when soldiers took to the streets of Lisbon in a peaceful revolution in an attempt to overthrow Marcello Caetano. The revolution was a successful one, and the dictatorship – which had lasted 42 years – was brought to an end. The period of this Estado Novo, as the previous president António de Oliveria Salazar had called it, was a period in which Portuguese citizens were oppressed and tortured, so this national holiday is a joyous occasion on which many people wear red to celebrate their freedom. Sadly, although I took to the streets of Braga in the hope to find some amazing celebration, there didn’t seem to be much going on. In the bigger cities like Porto and Lisbon however, thousands of people were crowded in the streets, which was something that I was only able to see on the television.
Next week I only have one day of university due to Dia do Trabalhador (Labour day), so hopefully then I’ll be able to make the most of this long weekend and do some more sightseeing!
Até a próxima!