Porto is best known for its long seafaring tradition, beautiful bridges and production of port wine. There also also other treasures, not least a collection of fabulous art deco buildings, which can be found throughout the city. My recent visited was marked by several days of rain but the skies brightened long enough for me to search out and admire some of Porto's best examples of art deco and modernism.
|Estacao de serviço Passos Manuel|
|Estacao de serviço Passos Manuel|
|Coliseu do Porto|
Rua de Passos Manuel in the city centre is home to two stunning deco buildings. The Coliseu do Porto theatre and the Estacao de servico Passos Manuel look at each other from opposite sides of the street. Whilst many cities have art deco theatres, fewer have garages built in this style. The Estacao opened in 1939 with three parking levels and shops on the ground floor. The facade is delightful, boasting speed stripes, a glazed stairwell, portholes, a flag pole and a neon map of Portugal. As if this isn't enough there are also a couple of "elephant trunks" fins and changing depths with recessed upper levels. Designed by architect Mario de Abreu, the garage continues to be used for its original purpose but also houses Maus Habitos, a cultural organisation with a gallery, bar, restaurant and panoramic views of the city. I tried to sneak a look at the neon map from inside the building but found it screened off, I assume as protection against damage.
|Coliseu do Porto|
|Coliseu do Porto|
Abreu was also involved in designing the Coliseu do Porto, directly opposite the Estacao de Servico, working with two other stellar Portuguese architects - Cassiano Branco and Julio Jose de Brito. Occupying a larger footprint than the garage, the Coliseu really does have it all. It is a deco dream with portholes, columns, recessed elements, fins, stylised lettering and my favourite feature - those eight purely decorative discs at the summit of the partially glazed tower. Fabulous.
Originally commissioned to a group of Portuguese and Dutch architects, Branco assumed overall responsibility for the design in 1939, managing it to completion in 1941. Long one of the city's premier cultural buildings, the Coliseu was almost sold to a Brazilian evangelical church in 1995. However, several thousand people took to the streets to protest the sale, resulting in Government and Mayoral intervention to halt the sale and pass the building to community management where it remains today.
A fire in 1996 caused internal damage and the Coliseu did not re-open until 1998. Since then it has staged many concerts including appearances by Omara Portuondo of Buena Vista Social Club fame, Fado singer Ana Moura, jazz vocalist Anthony Strong and Brazilian musicians Joao So and Gal Costa. The main auditorium has a seating capacity of 2955 with space for 3500 standing.
The Coliseu is not the only art deco style theatre in the city centre. The Teatro Rivoli in Rua do Bonjardim opened in 1913 and was remodelled in the 1920's in the art deco style under the direction of architect Julio Jose de Brito. In addition to theatre and cinema the remodelled Rivoli offered opera, dance and music. de Brito came from an artistic family and was the son of painter Jose de Brito. He trained at the School of Fine Arts of Porto, enrolling in 1910 before continuing his studies at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Porto.
The Cinema Batalha comes from a later period. Designed by Arturo Andrade and completed in 1947 in streamline moderne style, it is arranged over four storeys of a trapezoid shaped structure. The facade has exquisite windows that run the full length of the upper floors along the two points facing a public square, meeting in a superb curved corner. It also has a raised marble relief, the work of sculptor Americo Braga. The cinema reached its heyday in the 1960's but by the 1980's, like cinemas around the world it suffered from falling audiences, eventually closing in 2003 before re-opening as a music and events venue in 2003. At the time of my visit the Batalha looked neglected and possibly abandoned with rubbish on the steps and rough sleepers on one corner. A Portuguese language blog refers to parties being organised in the building and the risk of damage but I have been unable to find more details. It is to be hoped that this beautiful building can be properly cared for and retained for public use.
|Club Fluvial Portuense|
Another stunning deco building lies a short distance from the city centre on the opposite side of the River Douro. The Vila Nova de Gaia district is home to many of the producers of Port including Sandeman, whose building has an outline of the famous caped man who features in their marketing material and reminds me of the brand's TV adverts from the 1960's. The Club Fluvial Portuense is a short step from Sandemans. Founded in 1876 it is the city's oldest sports club and one of the oldest in Portugal. The club now operates from a modern site outside of the central zone but the old building is another art deco beauty with a gorgeous green and white facade complete with portholes, balconies , flagpole and tiny discs flanking the central tower. The upper level also carries the club's name in stylised lettering. There is a restaurant on the first floor and if you step into the ground floor lobby there are art deco tiles with aquatic scenes.
It has been difficult to find firm details about the date of construction but the building commenced operating in 1948 - rebuilt after an earlier building was damaged or destroyed in 1932. Anyone with further information or who knows who the architect was is encouraged to add the details in the comments section below!
Back on the other side of the river but even further away from the centre of town the Hotel Vincci Porto is housed in yet another terrific deco building. Now a stylish hotel it started life as a large fish market - surely the most stylish one ever to be built? Transformed into a hotel in 2005, it has retained the external deco features including fins, a clock tower, neon lighting units and sculpted panels. The hotel also has a good restaurant with design references to the deco style and a modern bar at raised level in the enormous lobby. Both are open to non-guests and are worth a visit if you go to admire the architecture. And in case you are wondering there's not even a whiff of fish now.
Designed by Januario Godhino de Almeida the building was completed in 1934 it was declared a national monument in 1977. de Almeida was another graduate of the Porto School of Fine Arts and went on to design many other buildings here and in other Portuguese cities, including residential, commercial and civic structures. The conversion to an hotel was carried out by Portuguese architect Jose Carlos Cruz.
And so to my favourite Porto art deco building. Armazens Cunhas is a department store in Praca de Gomes Teixeira. A striking building in its own right it stands in sharp contrast to the neighbouring monumental structures such as the Carmo church, the exterior of which is partially covered in beautiful blue and white azulejos. The footprint of Armazens Cunhas encompasses three 19th century buildings joined together and given a deco facade. The work took from 1933-36 and was a collaboration between three architects - Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes and Coelho Freitas. Marques is perhaps the best known of the three. A bit of a child prodigy, he enrolled at our favourite school - the Porto Fine Arts Academy in 1902 at the age of just 12, continuing his education in Paris after the First World War. On his return to Portugal he worked with a variety of architects including Julio Jose de Brito, author of the Teatro Rivoli as well as serving on the city council's aesthetics committee.
Armazens (which means warehouses) looks great at any time but when the sun comes out it is truly stunning with the deco style lettering, vertical light boxes, a pair of balconies running the full length of the building and of course, its crowning glory, the green peacock. Fabulous.
Porto has many other art deco and modernist buildings - too many to fit into a very short visit, which of course means I will have to return and seek them out. In the meantime I will leave you with this modernist building which I came across by chance and that would not look out of place amongst Tel Aviv's many buildings in this style. It is in Rua do Guerra Junqueiro, built in 1934 and designed by Jorge Manuel Viana.
|Private home, Rua do Guerra Junqueiro|
You might also like - Lisbon Art Deco - three cinemas, a church and some communists