This is on a list of “Places to See Before You Die,” since Braga is known as the Portuguese Rome. It is good to be back in Portugal once again! Braga was founded by the Romans over 2,000 years ago and was known as Bracara Augusta. There are still archaeological remains of Roman baths and settlements in the middle of the city. It is very beautiful and charming. There are churches every few feet, it seems, along with many plazas, official buildings with towers and turrets, and houses covered in gorgeous azulejos, Portuguese decorative tile that is a hallmark of the country’s architecture. You can see them on buildings in every city here.
First up in our photos, and usually first on every tourist’s list, is Bom Jesus da Monte. Located about two miles outside of Braga, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and simply put….there are no words to describe it. The first photo shows only a fraction of the 640 steps to get to the church! Before this, there are switchback stairs that wind through woods. Every staircase unit of about 30 steps had chapels on either side depicting Biblical scenes….the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Virgin Mary ascending to heaven, St. Peter assuming leadership of the church, etc. There are what seems like hundreds of statues leading up to, and then surrounding, the various upper plazas of the church. The third photo is a shot downhill of some of the statues and the city below. Following that is the ornate interior of the church, with a magnificent chandeliered dome and lots of gold. There is a side altar with busts of too many saints to count! And, there is a glass case with the remains of St. Clement. The funicular you see is one of very few in the world, and runs up the entire mountain. The cars run at the same time, one going up the hill while the other goes down. The one coming down is weighted with water, powering the lighter one up the tracks.
After the funicular is Braga Cathedral, followed by the coffins of some of its beloved ancestors. Then, there is the Garden of St. Barbara with arches left from the old Archbishop’s Palace. We don’t know why two angel statues are sleeping on the ground.
After those are all the rest of the photos: some walkways and streets we passed; the Arco da Porto Nova, an old city gate designed by a Braga-based sculptor in the 18th century; a whimsical sculpture; many churches; the tower of the old castle; some azulejo-tiled houses, a gorgeous fountain in one of the squares. The final photo is one with the letters spelling Braga, and our magnificent hotel is behind it. The building started out as a convent, and inside, looks like one, with many arched colonnades and porticos. It was then converted to a hospital, and became a hotel/restaurant in 2011. It is such a unique city. It follows Spanish tradition, though: everything is open, then closes for part of the afternoon (except Asian restaurants!), then reopens late, and stays open past midnight. At our last hotel, the man checking us in said that 99 percent of Westerners say that it is very difficult for them not to eat dinner until 8:00 pm or later. We agree!