Travelling Through Portugal – Braga

If you are visiting northern Portugal, the city of Braga is just a short, one-hour, train ride from Porto and is well worth the trip.

From the Braga railway station follow the road as it veers right to Rua  Andrade Corvo.  That will take you past City Hall and the municipal garden which leads you right to the Arco da Porta Nova, the arched gateway into the historic part of Braga. The streets are lined with numerous shops, cafes and bakeries.

Continue walking a couple of blocks to the Rue do Cabido, turn right and about a block later is a side street on your left side and at the end of that you will see the ancient Braga Se (Cathedral).  Construction started in the 11th century but it has undergone numerous additions and renovations since then and is made up of several different architectural styles.  It’s amazing to walk around the cathedral and cloisters and know that you are treading on the same floor that generations of people have passed over. In the courtyard are numerous artifacts marking the history of the archdiocese and the cathedral.  There is even a mausoleum you can see where archbishops and other church leaders are interred.

Continue exploring Braga with a stop at Praça da República square and gardens. Here there is a giant fountain, statues and the Convento dos Congregados which is next to the Avenue da Liberdade with its central gardens.  Turn right at the Theatro Circo and make your way to the Largo de Santa Cruz. Here you will find two exquisite churches. The Igreja de Sao Marcos and Igreja de Santa Cruz.  When we were there. church services were underway and were packed to the doors, so we couldn’t get inside. There are more churches in Braga than any other city I have visited.  It is not difficult to see how this is the Catholic heart of Portugal.

But it is the Bom Jesus do Monte that is the highlight for the faithful and secular visitors alike.  It’s relatively easy to get to by transit, just get on the Bus #2 and it will take you right to the base of the mountain where the church is built.  You can take the funicular to the church or you can walk up the stairs.  It’s better to take the stairs, if you are up to it. Pilgrims take the 580 steps of the Escadatório do Bom Jesus, climbing 116 meters up.

The site itself has been considered holy since the 14th century but the current church was built in 1722. Along the route are small chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ, Via Crucis or the Way of the Cross, telling the story of Jesus, his crucifixion and his resurrection.  There are spectacular views of Braga all the way up the hill.  The second set of stairs follows a zigzag route and is dedicated to the five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch), each represented by a different fountain. And at the very top is the Baroque church itself.  Of course when we visited it was being renovated (seems to be a recurring theme in Portugal, I wonder if they do all their renovations in the off-season so they don’t discourage the tourists.) and there was a big cloth painting hanging over the altar area. There are statues scattered throughout the site, many of them facing out toward the city of Braga. In the grounds surrounding the church are more chapels depicting events after the crucifixion and more fountains.  There is a beautiful grotto (Gruta do Bom Jesus) with stalactites and flowers among the rocks, there is also a small lake with row boats that delivers a very peaceful and serene place to rest or have a picnic.

Keep walking through the park and you come to an area outside a gate where there are hotels and restaurants. We stopped at Restaurante Central do Bom Jesus for a beer, bread, olives and a sardine/tuna pate that was delicious.

Take the bus back into the heart of Braga’s historic centre and continue your exploration before heading back to the train station for the ride back to Porto.  Braga is a great day trip destination but memories of its history and faithfulness will stay with you.

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