This weekend I was in the land of Fernando Pessoa, the great Portuguese poet and writer. I named this blog after his book ‘Maritime Ode’ (official translation) or better ode to the sea. I think city’s like Lisbon and Porto, which are build at the sea, are an ode to the sea in stone (and tiles). Pessoa wrote his ‘Ode to the sea’ in 1914, right before the Art Deco buildings in the city of Porto were built.
‘Life is what we make of it. Travel is the traveller. What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.’
Fernando Pessoa, Out of ‘The book of the Disquiet’
What I write here are my personal observations. What I see isn’t what I see, but what I am (after Pessoa). A few years ago I visited Lisbon, but Porto is a different city, although it is also a city at the sea. The sea, that is so important in the writings of Pessoa. Lisbon has an ordered city centre with a central gate to the sea and a boulevard at the coastline. You are able to walk to the sea directly. Porto is more chaotic and has smaller streets and more colourful houses built on different levels. To go to the sea, you need a little time from the city centre. The sea is rough these days, runs meters high and has a craft stronger than man. At the boulevard you saw even a sign for danger. Porto is a city full of influences. You see the facades layered with tiles (azulejos) in different colours and with different patterns. They were introduces by the Moors at the Iberian Peninsula. After the Moors went away, the fashion of the colourful tiles stayed. First the patterns were abstract and geometric, but from the 16th century the colours blue and yellow were favourite and Portuguese and Flemish artists introduced flowers and religious themes. From the 17th century the characteristic tiles in blue and white became popular. You see them at churches and in the hall of the central station of the city.
In Porto you are able to drink Port and eat fish, but you can also visit the museum for Modern Art (Museu Serralves) and its spectacular garden, with 1500-year-old trees in combination with modern sculptures. In the park there is placed an art deco building in dark pink. This colour contrasts with the green water (or tiles) in the basins of the garden scenography.
The city of Porto is full of Art Deco buildings, with authentic interiors: cafes, bookshops, even a garage is built in Art Deco style. Only the design of the cars inside the building has changed (unfortunately) over the years. Cast Iron you can find in the meters high bridge Luis I (by Flemish engineer Théophile Seyrig), which stretches over the river Douro and for example in the central marketplace, where the Portuguese sell and buy fish, bread, vegetables and port wine.
Porto is a fluent city, you are able to observe the influence from the sea and of people who come and go, like ebb and flood. The Portuguese stay in their city Porto and are open and hospitable.