In 1711, king Dom João V vowed that if he was blessed with a son, he would construct a convent in Mafra. When a son was born in 1714, Dom João V spared no expense to fulfil his promise. By one count, the building has 880 rooms and 4,500 doors and windows. The convent includes a magnificent palace for the royal family and a basilica made of the purest marble, with intricate altars lavishly decorated with gold leaf.
To top it all, the king commissioned a 200-ton carillon. According to legend, when the craftsmen quoted the price of the carillon, they remarked that the cost seemed too dear for a small country like Portugal. Offended, the king replied: “I didn’t realize the bells were so cheap! I would like two sets.” And so, two sets were made. Nicholas Levach made 57 bells for the North tower in Liége. Willem Witlockx made 49 bells for the South tower in Antwerp.
The convent has many other bells: liturgical bells used in religious ceremonies, lecture bells that signaled the beginning and end of study periods, agony bells that rang when a monk was dying, refectory bells that reminded monks of their meal times, and the codfish bell that sounded in days when people should abstain from eating meat.
The carillon and some of the other bells were used to mark the passage of time with minuets and other compositions. In a world where musical sounds were rare, the bells of Mafra filled the village with harmony and grace.
We envy the early risers. They see Lisbon wake up, dress in pale blue light, put on a cinnamon fragrance and get ready to enchant its visitors.
We’re often asked about the drawings used on our blog. They’re the work of architect Rui Barreiros Duarte. For the first time, he’s selling a few original drawings like the one on this post. The sizes are around 60 cm x 40 cm and the prices around 200 euros. If you’re interested, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
When you visit Portugal you need to sleep well to rest your eyes, because as soon as you wake up there’s so much to see!
A walk in an old neighborhood is a visual feast of architectural details. Doors, windows, roofs, and balconies tell us about the craftsmanship of their builders and the dreams of their owners. Each is a distinctive brush stroke on the beautiful canvas that is Portugal.
Portugal’s second largest city and the unofficial capital of the North is called Oporto. The city has an older feel than Lisbon. While much of Lisbon was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, Oporto preserved its meandering medieval streets and ancient buildings.
Oporto is a place full of surprises. The city looks austere, but its granite architecture is just a ruse to make the gorgeous Douro river look even more seductive. Life in Oporto is hectic, but residents always take the time to give visitors a warm reception. There are plenty of restaurants that look ordinary but serve great food. And there are many hidden treasures in the port-wine caves that store, sometimes for centuries, the precious nectars from the Douro valley.
The Portuguese call the city Porto, while the English call it Oporto. There are two theories about this discrepancy. The most plausible is that the English, hearing the Portuguese say “o Porto” (which means “the city of Porto”), combined the article and the noun into Oporto. The most romantic is that the name came from visitors falling in love with the city and sighing “Oh Porto!” We side with the romantic theory.
Click here for a guide of where to stay and what to do in Oporto.