The Torre dos Clérigos [Clérigos Tower] is the iconic monument of Porto. Together with the Ponte D. Luís [D. Luís Bridge] and the zona ribeirinha [riverside area] it forms a triangle packed with the history and life of this proudly undefeated city. This granite construction is 75 tall and gives you the best panoramic view of Porto. Its stones embody 250 years of an existence full of significant moments.
Like a lighthouse, the Torre dos Clérigos is completely unmistakable in the silhouette of old Porto, this fabled landscape composed of coloured brush strokes and granite that grabs us head-on from Gaia. The more modern buildings do not cast their shadow over it; they have been respectfully installed in the background. It stands in the upper part of Baixa do Porto [downtown Porto] and the best way to reach it is on foot, admiring the nineteenth-century architecture around it as you go.
It has become a landmark in itself, in such a stand-alone way that we forget that it belongs to a group: the monumental cluster consisting of the old infirmary and the singular Igreja dos Clérigos [Clérigos Church]. Three parts of a masterpiece conceived and created, from the first stone to the last, by Nicolau Nasoni, a renowned Italian architect and painter. Nasoni came to Porto in 1725 to oversee the aesthetic renovation of the sacristy and the main chapel of the Sé do Porto [Porto Cathedral], where his trompe l’oeil paintings still adorn the spaces to this day. Influenced by the decorative exuberance of the Italian Baroque, he went on to develop several building projects in the north of Portugal, but it was to Clérigos alone that he devoted 30 years of his life.
The Torre dos Clérigos was built after the church and located at the back of it because of the terrain. It was completed in 1763, making it one of the tallest in Europe, even taller than the towers of Notre Dame in Paris. It has four floors in the main body and two more in the upper one. The original project was for a bell tower, so it has always had bells, but in 1995 a carillon was installed, whose 49 bells were cast in Holland. Occasionally live concerts are held here, performed by a carillonneur who can be seen striking the huge keyboard that makes the clappers hit the inside of the bells. To strike the hours at noon and 6 pm and to play music without anyone operating the keyboard, the carillon mechanism is automatically activated through a computer that is linked to an atomic clock abroad.
You get to the top of the tower via a spiral staircase with 240 steps – sometimes you have to give way to people making their way down. An effort that really is well worth it, both for the view at the top and for the experience of being in the original interior, without any enhancements hiding its already long life. At each level there are small openings in the walls through which you can glimpse Porto. The first stop is on the 4th floor – here is a room with touch screens all around that receive images in real time from the viewpoint at the top, as well as information about the most important monuments and parts of the city that can be seen. This space has been designed especially for people who cannot use the stairs. Next to it, another room tells the timeline of the events that have left their mark on the city since the inauguration of the tower. The 4th floor also has the first balcony. This is at the level of the four clock faces of the tower, and you can now gaze down on the city from above.
But there are more stairs to climb. Once you reach the 6th floor the effort of the climb gifts you a panoramic, almost aerial, view of Porto, from the old houses with orange roofs to modern design buildings, and all the streets and avenues. On the south side, Porto Cathedral and the Mosteiro da Serra Pilar [Serra Pilar Monastery] in Gaia line the Douro River. To the west, the Jardins do Palácio de Cristal [Crystal Palace Gardens] and the Ponte da Arrábida [Arrábida Bridge] take us to the sea, to the Atlantic Ocean. To the north, Jardim dos Clérigos [Clérigos Gardens] and Rua das Carmelitas, one of the most charming streets in the centre.
It is on this almost dizzying balcony (with a protective guard rail) that the strategic importance is felt and the many stories featuring the Torre dos Clérigos are figured out. The tower was once a landmark for boats crossing the Douro bar and served to announce – by raising two flags at the top – the monthly arrival of the Royal Mail Packet Line vessels [Mala Real Inglesa], which in the nineteenth century brought the orders and bills of exchange keenly awaited by merchants.
With four large dials, it was its clock that marked the city’s official time since the 1830s, when it was installed there. But even before then, the tower had already set the pace of the city with a somewhat curious device: when the midday sun fell on a lens, it burned a wire attached to the trigger of a revolver, thereby releasing it to fire a mortar which, very loudly, announced that it was lunch time.
One of the most impressive events featuring the tower happened in 1917 when two great Galician acrobats, the Puertollanos, scaled the tower to the very top using just their hands and without any safety rope! When they reached the top, under the astonished gaze of the 150,000 people who were watching, they calmly sipped tea and nibbled some Invicta biscuits, the brand that had this brilliant advertising idea, recorded for posterity in the film Chá nas Nuvens [in English, Tea in the Clouds].
More information here: http://www.cinemateca.pt
A witness of troubled times, the Torre dos Clérigos embodies the free spirit of Porto, celebrating with the joyous ringing of bells the victory of a naval squadron of the Liberal forces – supported by the British naval officer Charles Napier – over the absolutists at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1833. From the monarchy to the republic, many are the stories witnessed by the tower. But this tower is now the identity of Porto, for everyone for whom it has been part of the scenery since they were children.
Your heart is filled with emotion when you get back to ground level. The tower is linked to the church by the Casa da Irmandade [House of the Brotherhood]. Today a museum, displays ancient paintings, jewellery, robes and ecclesiastical sculptures that show different facets of Christianity over eight centuries. With the Clérigos Church Nasoni masterfully combined granite, pink marble, and gilded woodcarving to create one of the most beautiful architectural works of the Baroque; an extravagant artistic style, with movement and exuberant colours, which flourished in Portugal and throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The church houses two 200-year-old church organs, decorated with floral motifs painted in gold. Every day of the year, at 12 noon there is a free organ concert for anyone who wants to come along. The widely varied and rich repertoire is chosen from the best composers for this wonderful instrument.
Address: Rua de São Filipe Nery | 4050-546 Porto
Schedule: Every day, form 9.00 am to 7.00 pm
Visits at night: 7.00 pm to 11.00 pm
Access for people with physical/mobility disability: lift to the 4th floor
Daytime ticket: Tower + Museum – €6 (free for children up to and including 10 years of age)
Night-time ticket: Dates and price on request
Tel.: +351 220 145 489
Church organ concerts: every day from 12 noon. Admission free.