The symbol of the 18th century, baroque art in Portugal became quite distinct from that of other countries, because of its original and peculiar exoticism. Benefiting from the great economic wealth of the time, palaces, churches and monasteries were filled with movement and colour.
In Porto, you’ll find some of the most significant baroque monuments, which should not be missed. Amongst the highlights are the Torre dos Clérigos and the Igreja de São Francisco.
The Church of Clérigos (Ecclesiastics) is a genuine baroque masterpiece dating from the mid-18th century. It was designed by Nicolau Nasoni, an architect of Italian origin. He stamped his mark on many monuments around Oporto and the north of Portugal. Nasoni, on his request, was buried here in a small chapel with its gateway at the same level as the top of the double bolster stairway.
The front of the church shows off its highly interesting and beautiful baroque finishing with its contours, domes and spires worthy of closer inspection. The interior has but a single nave in granite and marble and covered in baroque carvings again demonstrating the skill of the architect. In the main chapel, attention is drawn to the polychromatic altarpiece by Manuel Porto.
However, what sets this construction apart is the Tower; constructed in granite protruding out of the top of the western side of the church. This is the highly distinctive landmark of Porto. The tower extends upwards through 75 metres of elegance forming rhythmic stages before rising to its crowning glory, the spherical clock house. The baroque decoration is thoroughly delicate and off a wonderful lightness.
The Igreja de São Francisco (Church of St Francis), has an interior that is completely lined with gold. The church dates back to the discovery of gold and precious stones in Brazil. And it was the enormous wealth that this generated and the availability of exotic wood from the new continents that made it possible to create works of this opulence. Originally a gothic cathedral dating back to 1425, the cathedral was later enlarged and re-decorated in baroque style.
In the early 18th century the lateral aisles and apse chapels were extensively decorated with exuberant gilt wood work by several Portuguese wood carvers. This decorative richness is the most notable feature of the Franciscan church, covering almost completely the roofs of the aisles, pillars, window frames and chapels and hiding the underlying mediaeval architecture. Even though the Baroque gilt work does not completely harmonise with the Gothic structure of the church, it is considered one of the most outstanding of Portugal.
The help preserve Porto’s lovely baroque architecture the historic centre of Porto was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.