Why was there never a royal palace in Porto?
This blog post provides you a virtual guided tour to the interiors of Palácio da Bolsa, which was never royal, despite its majestic appearance. In fact, this is somewhat odd for a second largest city of a country that was a monarchy for almost 8 centuries: there was never a royal palace built in Porto, by any of the Portuguese kings of any dynasty (...)
The reason for the above is simple: during the last - and wealthier - centuries in Porto, the Bourgeoisie was dominant, first the mercantile, later also the industrial. The king and its royal court have always been visitors to the city, spending merely a few days at a time. Nobles and their families' presence were not entirely well accepted while commerce-generated wealth provided the city with a certain degree of independence.
So many times throughout History, the merchants of Porto have jumped to the rescue, financially supporting the Royal Portuguese house. Never the opposite.
The palace known as Palácio da Bolsa, headquarters of the Associação Comercial do Porto (ACP) is a symbol of economic dominance over politics and even religion here in the region. The palace looks like a non-religious temple, a pagan temple where mythology and many world classic architectural styles merge, together in a place that is meant to welcome business people and delegations from all over the world, even nowadays.
There's a few reasons and surprising elements of interest that make us recommend a visit. The next video is just a humble sample:
Present and future
There's a large number of special events, held inside the Palácio da Bolsa every year. All from technology, to special gala dinners, huge wine tasting events...!
Definitely a highlight.
The Arab room, though overwhelming and profusely decorated, was deliberately built in a non-geometric way, so that it wouldn't be 'perfect'. Only 'Allah' is supposed to be perfect, "perfection is a divine virtue and is not accessible to humans". We guess such an opulent room must have really gotten to the nerves of the highest religious ranks of the Catholic church of the mid-1800's...! In this 'non-religious temple', a room like this definitely had a double intent. It took over 18 years to decorate ...!
Photos source: Daysaway.me
Before there was a Palace
After the 1828-34 civil war ended with the victory of the anticlerical Liberals (Porto was itself besieged for a whole year), the Portuguese Queen Maria II authorized the construction of a headquarters for the recently founded merchants' association, Associação Comercial do Porto (ACP) on a deeply symbolic location: the ruins of a Catholic monastery, burnt to the ground during the war. Businessmen would finally have a place to hold their meetings, other than the squares and streets of Porto.
"Rua Nova dos Ingleses", nowadays a street called Rua do Infante. This drawing by James Forrester depicts the meetings of merchants, out on the street, before the Palácio da Bolsa was built, just a few dozen meters away.
An old photo of Palácio da Bolsa, dating back to 1897 (Credits: Foto-Porto )
ACP'S importance and its leaders.
When speaking of an organization's importance and political influence, it's important to look at their leaders and their actions. In Porto, the presidents of the Associação Comercial often pursue a political career, stepping up to some of the highest places in local and regional administration. A quick glimpse at the former ACP presidents' list makes that very clear. Here's just two examples:
To the surprise of many: Eiffel's office?!
Gustave Eiffel and his business associate Theophile Seyrig - both engineers- spent years in Porto building the Maria Pia Bridge over the Douro River, as well as designing a second project for the bridge that connects downtown Porto and Gaia, where the Port wine cellars are located.
But Eiffel and his business partner went separate ways after the first project and the final design of what was to become the iconic Luís I Bridge was exclusively Theophile's. In a public tender in 1881, the public work was awarded to Seyrig's new employer company, the Belgian Société de Construction de Willebroek, for 402 'contos', a price far below the nearest competitor.
Eiffel's office with his original desk, where he did most of his work during his times in Porto. Photo: Daysaway.me
Gustave Eiffel built more than 30 bridges and iron structures in Portugal alone, many more in other countries before he went to Paris and work on two of his masterpieces: the Eiffel tower and the inner structure of the Statue of Liberty.
A fun fact.
Inside the Court room where trade law suits were discussed, there is a large collection of paintings with loads of symbolism. However, one of the paintings stands out for a couple of reasons. One: because of the people portrayed by Veloso Salgado (its author) - some of the most outstanding Portuguese artists, including painters, an architect, a sculptor. The second reason: these artists lived in different centuries - hence they never actually coexisted in the same time... or space :) Well... they coexist now! :)
Visits to the building and other informations.
Visits to the building are possible all year round, with guided tours in several languages.
Entrance fee for 2019: 10.00 Eur.
For updated information, please go the official website of Palácio da Bolsa.
Non-programmed stop on a Heart of Porto running tour: waiting for the green light just across the square from Palácio da Bolsa.
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Sérgio is the founder of Porto Running Tours, a keen runner since 1999 and a friendly running tour guide-storyteller since 2015.
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