Porto’s churches provide one of the country’s richest concentrations of Baroque architecture. The style was brought to Portugal by Italian painter and architect Nicolau Nasoni (1691–1773), who arrived in Porto at the age of 34, and remained here for the rest of his life. The church and tower of Clérigos is his greatest work, though his masterful touch can also be seen in the cathedral and adjacent bishop’s palace, and at the churches of Misericórdia, Carmo, Santo Ildefonso and São Francisco. All are remarkable for their decorative exuberance, reflecting the wealth derived from Portugal’s colonies.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, out went the luxuriant complexity of Baroque and in came the studied lines of the Neoclassical period. Neoclassicism also incorporated hints of Gothic and Baroque art, but most of all, was influenced by an Islamic style, which reached its apotheosis in the Salão Árabe of the Palácio da Bolsa. By the turn of the twentieth century Porto’s Neoclassicism had acquired a distinctly French Renaissance touch, thanks largely to the architect José Marquês da Silva (1869–1947), who studied in Paris. His most notable works were São Bento railway station, the exuberant Teatro Nacional São João, and the distinctly less elegant monument to the Peninsular War that dominates the Rotunda da Boavista.
Not until the 1950s did Porto see the emergence of a style of architecture that it could call its own, with the beginning of the so-called Porto School, centred on the city’s School of Fine Arts. This proved fertile ground for many of Porto’s contemporary architects, including Eduardo Souto Moura (Casa das Artes, and the conversion of the Alfândega), Alcino Soutinho (the conversion of the Casa-Museu Guerra Junqueiro, and Amarante’s Museu Amadeo Sousa Cardoso), and – most famously – Álvaro Siza Vieira, whose masterpiece in Porto is the contemporary art museum at the Fundação Serralves (1999). Earlier works of his can be seen in Leça da Palmeira, north of the city, such as the Piscina de Mar swimming pool (1966) and Casa de Chá da Boa Nova (1963), both hidden in the rocks by the shore – the Casa de Chá was a renowned café-restaurant for years but has currently been sadly abandoned to the elements and vandals.
A word should also be said about the city’s famous bridges – there are five more besides the landmark Ponte Dom Luís I, notably the Ponte do Infante, whose central 280m reinforced-concrete arch is the world’s longest, and further east upriver, Gustave Eiffel’s iron railway bridge, Ponte Dona Maria Pia. The best way to see them all is to take a river cruise.