When you are in the centre of Porto it is hard to miss the 18th century Clerigos tower. As it loomed over the skyline, it made a good landmark for me to navigate by. Just as its architect, Nicolau Nasoni, is hard to miss when you are in Porto. As I rapidly skimmed the pages on Porto’s architecture which Google collected at my request, the name of Nasoni popped up again and again. After visiting the cathedral we decided to walk to the Clerigos church. Porto’s center is very compact, and it is a really short walk between the cathedral and this lovely Baroque church.
The inside was quite as ornate as a Baroque church is expected to be (see the detail of the vault in the featured image). The striking exceptionality of the design is that it stands in a very narrow parcel of land. The interior is terribly cramped, as you realize when you squeeze past other tourists. But when you sit down on one of the benches in the church, the perspective feels like you are in a spacious church. The manipulation of perspective becomes apparent only when you approach the altar or the decorations on the walls: they are much higher than you expected them to be. This is Nicolau Nasoni’s masterpiece. He probably thought he hadn’t done anything better, since he chose to be interred here.
We did not have the energy to climb the high tower and look out over the rooftops of Porto. We walked out and found that in the square behind it (Largo Amores de Pedrição) there is a large building which houses the Portuguese Center for Photography. The building was under renovation, and the exhibits were essentially in one downstairs room. It was a small but nice collection, and we were happy to spend some time looking through it.
The cathedral of Porto is near the Sao Bento station. As we walked up to it, the bright sun was behind the twin towers of the cathedral, and in our eyes. The Family said that it does not look very impressive from outside. We walked into the interior gloom. The cathedral did not look very impressive inside either. A narrow but high nave was topped with the barrel vaulting typical of Romanesque churches. The baroque porch from which we had entered was clearly added on much after 1120, when this part of the cathedral was completed. The Family took a closer look at the chapels and the decoration while I sat on a bench and nursed a bad knee.
The entrance to the place of worship is seldom ticketed, and this was no exception. However, you had to pay to enter the cloister attached to the cathedral. We duly paid up to enter the much more interesting Gothic cloister built during the 14th and 15th centuries (see the featured image). The azulejo panels at this level were designed in the early 18th century by Valentim de Almeida. The tiled panels on the upper level, which you can see bits of in the featured photo, were designed by Antonio Vidal around the same time.
We walked around the quadrangle. One of the doors leads to a renaissance staircase designed by the 18th century Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni who built many landmarks around the city. We peered at this, then walked around to the treasury inside the chapterhouse. We walked in a daze past shiny pieces meant to impress and suddenly spotted the odd decoration shown alongside. Could it really be a piece of the skin of St. Francis Xavier? We clicked a photo for our friends from Goa, and moved on. Baroque paintings decorate the roof of the chapterhouse. We admired them and moved up to the terrace.
One can take a closer look at the tiled murals here. These are genuinely beautiful, and totally Portuguese. We looked up at the steeple with a statue of a saint brandishing a cross from his niche. A sea gull sat on the large cross atop everything. Weeds grew out of the mortar. We’d noticed before that the once powerful church has entered a little bit of a backwater in this century. We went down by Nasoni’s stairs. The broad steps, evenly spaced, are very good for the knees. If you ever wonder why an architect has to design stairs, try descending a long flight of stairs made by amateurs. Your knees will tell you how bad they are.
There was a guide standing in the cloister. We asked her where Nasoni was buried. She did not know. As we exited we asked the lady who sold us the tickets where we could see Nasoni’s grave. She excitedly told us that no one knows. According to her he was buried somewhere in the cathedral, but the records are lost. Later we googled this and found that he is buried in one of the famous churches he built: the church of Sao Pedro dos Clerigos.