The history of Braga stretches back to the Iron Age, when a tribe called the Bracari first started a settlement here. In modern times, people regard Braga as the religious centre of Portugal with thirty-five churches in the city limits. I should prepare visitors for plenty of sight-seeing when walking around this lovely city about one hour’s train journey from Porto.
When you arrive at the train station, if you’re intending to see the Church of Bom Jesus then you should locate the bus stop for bus number 2, whose terminus is the amazing church and check the times – there is a regular service even on Sundays, which should tell you how popular this place is. The bus stop is close to the taxi rank at the front of the station.
To get to the city centre, head straight ahead and then turn right up Rua Andrada Corvo, which becomes pedestrian after the Porta Nova. On the right is the Cathedral, or Se, which was founded in 1070 on the site of a Moorish mosque. The only original part is the main door in the Romanesque style. The rest of the cathedral is slightly dour and not memorable.
I headed up Rua Sao Joao and came to the Capela dos Coimbras. Built in the 16th century and adjoining an 18th century church, this chapel has a Manueline-style crenellated tower adorned with statues. Nearby is a square with beautiful gardens and the ubiquitous town sign, large letters B R A G A designed for tourists to take pictures of. On the opposite side of the square is the Capela de Conceicao.
Behind this chapel stood my favourite building in Braga, the Raio Palace or the House of the Mexican, an 18th century residence with a rusticated Baroque facade covered in dark blue azulejos with three large doors, all painted blue. The window frames are in carved granite and the iron railings on the balconies are dark blue.
The Raio Palace was built between 1752 and 1755 and was fully restored in 2015 after the palace was used as a hospital until 2012. The palace now exhibits the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Braga’s (Holy House of Mercy) collection – paintings, sculptures, and sacred art. At the entrance, on the right, there’s a room dedicated to the objects used in the hospital.
I retraced my steps across the square and turned left, past the Igreja de Santa Cruz. This is a magnificent church that has twin towers, both with clocks. They built the church on the orders of the founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, Jerónimo Portilo. Building began in 1625 but was only completed in 1737, which is why there’s both Mannerist and Baroque architectural styles. The street Rua do Anjo is atmospheric and narrow, with many old buildings grouped together towards the Largo Sao Tiago, where I found the Pius XII Museum, housed in an old seminary – the Seminario Conciliar Sao Pedro Sao Paulo. They founded the museum in 1957 during the time Pius XII was Pope, the only connection between Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, and the museum I could find.
To the north of the cathedral is the Archbishop’s Palace / Paco Episcopal, the largest building in Braga, built between the 16th and 18th centuries, that houses the municipal archive, a library, and part of the university. I headed past the palace along the Rua do Souto, which brings the visitor to the heart of Braga, the Praca de Republica, with the 14th century former keep, the Torre de Menagem.
The Chapel of São Frutuoso / Capela de São Frutuoso takes some finding if you’re walking. My advice is to follow the road signs from near the Church of Populo, rather than using Google Maps which takes you through a housing estate. This chapel is also known as the Chapel of São Frutuoso of Montélios or the Chapel of São Salvador of Montélios and is a pre-Romanesque chapel, part of a group of religious buildings that include the much larger Church of Sao Francisco, which were originally built by the Visigoths in the 7th century in the form of a Greek Cross. In 1944, it was classified as a National Monument and the chances are you’ll have the place to yourself.