At the mouth of the Rio Douro, the hilly city of Porto presents a jumble of styles, eras and attitudes: narrow medieval alleyways, extravagant baroque churches, prim little squares, and wide boulevards lined with stately beaux-arts edifices.
Porto’s historic centre is the Ribeira district, a Unesco World Heritage zone of winding lanes, zigzagging staircases and tiled churches peering around every corner. Old traditions live on as tripeiros (Porto residents) mingle before old storefronts, on village-style plazas and in the old houses of commerce where Roman ruins lurk beneath the foundations. On the downside, here and in other parts of the city centre stand many dilapidated early-20th-century town houses, left to crumble as the young flee to the sprawling suburbs by the sea.
Yet despite signs of decay, in the last two decades Porto has undergone a remarkable renaissance – which is expressed in the hum of its efficient metro system and in the gleam of some ambitious urban renewal projects in other parts of town. The crowning glories of the town are the two recent masterworks, Álvaro Siza Vieira’s Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música, which have turned the city into a pilgrimage site for architecture buffs. And there are signs that an infusion of youthful vitality is returning to the centre, with the arrival of new galleries and boutiques.