Hard as it may be to believe, I actually did follow my giant lunch of francesinha with a climb up the Torre dos Clérigos. At 75.6 meters high (248 feet), it’s the centerpiece of the old city of Porto, with truly commanding views. But to see them, you have to climb 225 stairs.
Well, they do say that exercise aids digestion.
The Torre is the bell tower of the Igreja dos Clérigos, and was added on after the church had already been completed around 1750. Normally, I love exploring the interiors of fabulous old churches, but we had a big itinerary for this day and limited time. So I bought a ticket for just the Torre, plunked 50 cents into the ticket office vending machine for a bottle of water, turned my back on the church and started climbing.
The climb is made bearable by windows at almost every landing, providing welcome light and air (and, in the winter, probably freezing temperatures). This landing is on the tower’s main facade, facing west. If you check the top photo in the post, you can see the window in the second segment of the tower. It’s the larger of the two in that segment, and tall enough for me to stand upright.
A few landings further up, I found to my surprise that this is no ordinary church bell tower. It’s a carillon. How utterly cool! I stood here and took many photos straight over my head, marveling at the complexity of the whole instrument, with its multiple tiers of bells, its hammers and cords, and all of it connecting to the keyboard and foot pedals in the player’s booth.
A small sign taped to the inside of the booth window stated that the carillon holds 49 bells, ranging from 1.5 meters in diameter (5 feet) and 2,000 kilos (4,400 pounds), to the tiny bell of 17 centimeters (6.7 inches) weighing just 5 kilos (11 pounds). Altogether, the 49 bells weigh 9,978 kilos (22,000 pounds).
Here’s one of the big 1.5-meter bells, taking a whole landing window all to itself. Notice that it has both a small ringer on the inside, and a huge hammer on the outside. Obviously one of them produces a whole lot more sound. Guess which one rings the hours? And guess what time it was while I was standing right next to it, obliviously taking photos over my head? I swear my heart stopped beating, and didn’t resume until the ringing in my ears finally faded. If you ever want to test the efficacy of your adrenal system, just stand next to a massive church bell when it rings the hours. (It’s possible that I levitated, but since there were no witnesses I can’t confirm it.)
There are two external landings at the top, which is probably useful for dispersing the tourist crowd in the summertime. On a weekday afternoon there was little competition, and I happily found a spot that gave me the best views south and east, toward the river and this: the Sé do Porto (Porto Cathedral) and the Paço Episcopal (Episcopal Palace), where the bishops lived — in considerable luxury, apparently. The difference between this massive palace and the packed jumble of living quarters all around it is hard to ignore.
Just behind the cathedral and palace, you can see a long, low, white building with a domed tower at the right end: that’s the Mosteiro da Serra do Pilar, a gorgeous monastery sitting on the clifftop across the Rio Douro. It offers spectacular views of the Ponte Luís I (Luis I Bridge), which in this photo is hidden between the palace and the monastery. I really wanted to explore it, not just for the bridge photo opportunities, but also because the church (the domed structure at the end) and the circular cloisters are said to be quite glorious. Alas, it had to be added to the list of Things We Must Come Back to See. Which also includes the bishop’s palace and the cathedral.
Directly south, and across the river, are the long cellars of the port wineries. Most of them had giant signs proclaiming their owners, and it was fun to read so many names that I recognized from the shelves at my local wine shop. The one I was looking for was nowhere to be seen, though: Taylor’s, a cellar recommended by my friend Paulo. We did eventually find it…but that’s for another post.
(Click any image to biggify.)