I was born in Porto
There the pier, the Ribeira, the faces, the voices, the screams, the gestures.
A deep, serious, rude and hoarse beauty.
Stories of shipwrecks, lost boats, stranded ships.
Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
Porto day photography coronavirus
On a narrow street near “Sé do Porto” a rainbow flag hanging on a balcony affirms the same message I have seen for months throughout Milan: “Vai ficar todo bem” (“Everything will be alright”).
It is a national holiday in Portugal on the day I arrive in Porto. It’s raining, and the streets are empty on the way to the central area of the “Igreja do Carmo” where I will stay tonight. Porto day photography coronavirus
At the hotel reception I am greeted with a glass of “vinho do Porto” and a free upgrade to a better room. The masked receptionist begins to list the wide variety of services and options on special promotion when I stop her and ask for a good place for dinner. She makes a call for me, but on the other end of the line no one answers. The better part of the restaurants in the area are all closed.
Porto, the city that gave the country its name, was originally a small Celtic town located at the mouth of the Douro river, where the Romans built a port called the “Portus Cale”. From this name came the country’s name, “Portugal”.
Porto is also called the “Undefeated City” (“Cidade Invicta”) because it resisted both the attack of the Moors and the imperial army of Napoleon, and has never been defeated or captured since its creation during the Roman Empire. Porto day photography coronavirus
In the nineteenth century Porto lived the golden age of tile, a resistant and earthquake proof material, impervious to harsh weather. Many churches had their facades done in tile, taking advantage of the presence of great Portuguese artists who made extraordinary creations in ceramics. On the Igreja do Carmo, Santo Ildefonso, San Juan de los Congregados, the Porto Cathedral, and the São Nicolau churches, among others, one can see this exceptional tile-work on the facades and in the cloisters.
I have returned to Porto after a little over a year. The last time I was here, I walked with my camera on a hot, sunny Saturday through a city packed with tourists. In Sāo Bento station it was almost impossible to take any pictures because people were crowded into every inch of space, posing for selfies and photographs in front of the famous wall of twenty thousand tiles.
The line to get inside the Lello e irmāo bookstore, transformed into a place of pilgrimage after Harry Potter, now seems to be the only vestige left of the different world and time from not so long ago when people gathered together.
Sāo Bento station is empty now, and only a masked person rushing off a train disturbs the empty space in the frame.
Ribeira is also deserted, and the river Douro, as Pedro Homen de Melo put it, keeps running along “tortured and afflicted” all day.
Manoel’s tavern where I remember the waitress sang as she worked, and the historic Sandeman restaurant have both reduced the number of their tables, tables that nonetheless remain empty like those of most of the restaurants on the banks of the river. Porto day photography coronavirus
The scenery on the Douro, and the view from the “Terrerio do Sé” with the labyrinth of narrow streets below that rise and fall precipitously continue to dazzle me and are an inspiration to create art. And although I have little time, I am aware that now is the right moment to photograph Porto, in solitude, in silence.
Pablo Munini, Porto, October 2020
Porto day photography coronavirus