Porto is a city with a long and strong history of trade and commerce. Its location on the Douro River just some kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean was acknowledged as perfect for a port by its first inhabitants. There was a busy commercial port here already in the Roman era.
In the Kingdom of Portugal, Porto was a thriving economic centre. Its shipyards contributed greatly to the development of the Portuguese fleet, and, like other Portuguese cities, it enjoyed the fruits of the maritime explorations of the 15th and 16th centuries. The city acquired further wealth from the export of port wine, which increased significantly in the 18th century. It was a major industrial centre in the late modern era.
The architecture of Porto is a testimony of its strong economic focus. Some of its most outstanding buildings are commercial establishments. Among them are shops that sold items like jewellery, textiles, leather, furniture, ceramics, and books. To this we can add historical pharmacies, grocery stores, and cafés. Many of them date back to the first decades of the 20th century and are great examples of the Arte Nova architecture, the Portuguese version of Art Nouveau. Some retain their original function, and some are run by the descendants of their first owners.
Below I will introduce 18 historic shops in Porto. My list does not include all the shops of historic value in the city, but I dare to consider it representative.
I took all the photos in March and April 2022.
You will find the locations of the mentioned buildings on the map below.
1. Drogaria Félix & Filho / Farmácia São Domingos / Farmácia Moreno
Largo de São Domingos 44
This pharmacy was established in 1804 under the name of Drogaria Félix & Filho. It is one of the oldest operating pharmacies in Portugal. In 1890, it went to the hands of medical doctor and pharmacist Rodrigo Moreno, who changed its name to Farmácia São Domingos. The current name is from 1928.
The pharmacy has an outstanding cast iron front decorated with geometric patterns, volutes and a representation of the Bowl of Hygieia. It is from the 19th century.
Throughout its history the pharmacy has been famous for the production of its own medications. A little museum can now be found inside.
2. Armazém de Papel ao Murinho de São Domingos / Papelaria Araujo & Sobrinho
Largo de São Domingos 55
This shop is a stationery founded by Manuel Francisco de Araújo in 1829. Its original name means, in translation, ‘Paper Warehouse at the Little Wall of Saint Dominic’. It is said to be the oldest functioning stationery in Porto and one of the oldest in the world.
3. Fábrica de Cerâmica das Devesas
Rua de José Falcão 199 / Rua da Conceição 59-67
The Devesas Ceramic Factory was one of the largest producers of ceramics in Portugal at the end of the 19th century. While its main production units were located in Vila Nova de Gaia, it also needed presence in the commercial centre of Porto.
The building on Rua de José Falcão was used for the storage, showcase and sale of the products of the factory. It has an elaborate Moorish Revival façade, showing bifora windows with horseshoe arches, a central window with a multifoil arch, arabesque motifs around the openings and on the frieze, azulejo tiles all over the façade on the background, and merlons and sculptural ornaments on the cornice.
On Rua da Conceição there is another, less extravagant wing, which housed a marble workshop and residential quarters. Some original details survive inside the building.
4. Fernandes, Mattos & Ca.
Rua das Carmelitas 108-114 / Rua da Galeria de Paris 8-24
This building is located in the so-called Carmelite Quarter, named after the Convent of Saint Joseph and Saint Teresa of the Discalced Carmelites, which operated here in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the early 20th century, the convent was torn down and a commercial quarter was built on its site, with Rua da Galeria de Paris as its main axis (conceived as a covered passage).
One of the first resident stores here was Fernandes, Mattos & Ca., a prestigious fabric store established in 1886. It has a spacious and well-lit interior with wooden furnishings and columns. It remains in the hands of the heirs of its first owners.
5. Livraria Lello & Irmão
Rua das Carmelitas 144
Francisco Xavier Esteves, 1904-1906
This bookstore was founded by brothers José and António Pinto de Sousa Lello, who owned several others bookstores in Porto at the turn of the century. The store opened in 1906 in the newly established Carmelite Quarter.
Architecturally, the building is a mixture of the Gothic Revival and Arte Nova styles, as shown by the many decorative elements outside and inside. On the façade, one can admire painted figures representing Art and Science by José Bielman.
The interior is dominated by an imposing staircase that looks like it is made of wood, but is actually a structure of reinforced concrete. The rectangular space is covered by a large stained-glass panel with the motto ‘Decus in Labore’ and the monogram of the owners in the centre.
Lello is considered to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world. It is definitely the most touristic bookstore that I have ever visited, and the only one that charges a ticket fee.
6. Ourivesaria Reis & Filhos
Rua de Santa Catarina 1 / Rua 31 de Janeiro 247
This jewellery store was founded by António Alves dos Reis in 1880. Its cast iron front, produced by Companhia Aliança, is from 1905-1906. Showing lavish plant ornaments topped by volutes and a female bust, it is one of the most beautiful examples of the Arte Nova architecture of Porto. Inside there are two salons intended for the exhibition of silverwork and jewellery, both with original features.
7. Ourivesaria Cunha / Machado Joalheiro
Rua 31 de Janeiro 200-202
Francisco de Oliveira Ferreira, 1914
The history of Ourivesaria Cunha goes back to 1880, when Alfredo or José Pinto da Cunha opened a jewellery store on Rua do Loureiro. It moved to the current location in 1914.
The shopfront, designed by Francisco de Oliveira Ferreira, shows the features of both Arte Nova and the earlier styles. It is made of the lioz stone and cast iron, with applications of bronze and polished brass. It is crowned by a sculpture of two Amores by José de Oliveira Ferreira, the brother of the architect.
Inside there are beautiful Arte Nova showcases, columns, a spiral staircase, and furniture from the old store.
The shop is run by the Machado family since 1957.
8. Casa Vicent
Rua 31 de Janeiro 174
This store, originally a jewellery store, has a spectacular cast iron front in Arte Nova style (produced by Companhia Aliança). The numerous shell motifs indicate the influence of Rococo. Inside, many original features survive. The store got its name from a Spanish merchant to whom it was transferred some time after its foundation.
9. Fábrica Monteiro & Filhos / Alcino Silversmith
Rua de Santos Pousada 76
António Rodrigues de Carvalho, 1914-1915
This is the most beautiful Arte Nova structure in the area around the 24th of August Square. It was built for goldsmith João Joaquim Monteiro and included both commercial and residential spaces. It was transferred to silversmith Manuel Alcino Figueiredo Moutinho in 1966 or 1970.
10. Grandes Armazéns Nascimento / Edifício Palladium
Rua de Santa Catarina 67-73
José Marques da Silva, 1914-1927
This monumental structure at the junction of Rua de Santa Catarina and Rua de Passos Manuel was originally a department store for furniture and other items of interior decoration. It was designed following the example of the grands magasins of Paris. Its author was José Marques da Silva, one of the chief architects of Porto, who had recently designed buildings like the São Bento Railway Station and the São João National Theatre and who, here, employed the novel reinforced concrete framework. Today the structure is known as the Palladium Building, after a café that operated here from the 1940s until the 1970s.
11. Depósito de Sola e Cabedais Adriano Vieira da Silva Lima & Ca.
Rua do Ateneu Comercial do Porto 45
This leather warehouse was founded by trader and politician Adriano Vieira da Silva Lima in the late 19th century. The building is from the Arte Nova period, as shown by the azulejo tiles making up the name of the company and the stained glass of the wrought-iron gate and windows.
12. A Pérola do Bolhão
Rua Formosa 279
The ‘Pearl of Bolhão’ is a grocery store that originally focused on the sales of tea, coffee, and spices. It has one of the most attractive Arte Nova shopfronts in Porto, showing colourful tiles with female figures and floral motifs. The tiles were produced in the Carvalhinho Factory in 1917, as informed by the façade.
13. Café Majestic
Rua de Santa Catarina 112
José Pinto de Oliveira or João Queiroz, 1921-1922; expansion – 1925-1927
Café Majestic operates on the ground floor of a building from 1916 near the southern end of Rua de Santa Catarina, the main shopping street of Porto. It was established in 1921 as Café Elite, but when it opened its doors a year later its name had changed to Café Majestic.
It is one of the most outstanding examples of the Arte Nova architecture in Porto. Influence of the earlier styles can be traced in various details as well.
The street front is marked by an elegant marble structure with large glass-and-wood doors and windows. We can see here slender Pseudo-Ionic columns, pilasters with mascarons, children with a wreath, the name of the café in large golden letters, and a shield with the monogram of the café held by dragons.
Inside there is a large room with a rectangular plan and details such as mirrors with wooden frames, sculptures with human figures, stuccoes with vegetal shapes, and lamps in various sizes.
The café was designed either by José Pinto de Oliveira or João Queiroz (different sources indicate different authorship). In 1925-1927, it was expanded on the back side, towards Rua de Passos Manuel. A patio designed as a winter garden was built here together with a bar that served port wine and beer as well as spaces for selling tobacco and snuff.
Café Majestic was a popular meeting spot for the creative and the powerful of Porto starting from the 1920s. In the 1990s, J. K. Rowling is said to have spent a lot of time here writing her first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
14. Rua de Santa Catarina 250
The ground floor of this building, used as a shop, has an Arte Nova façade, one of the most attractive on Rua de Santa Catarina.
15. Ourivesaria Aliança
Rua das Flores 191-221
Francisco de Oliveira Ferreira, 1925
Aliança was one of the major goldsmiths on the Iberian Peninsula. Its headquarters was on Rua das Flores in Porto. Later, in the 1940s, it also opened a store on Rua Garrett in Lisbon. In Porto, as in Lisbon, the original storefront and interior decorations survive.
16. Farmácia Vitália
Praça da Liberdade 37
Manuel Marques & Manuel Amoroso Lopes, 1932-1933
The Vitália Pharmacy is a small Modernist building inserted into a large historical structure that started as the Convent of the Lóios and was later known as the Cardosas Palace. Its most conspicuous feature is the huge glass-and-iron cross above the entrance.
17. Armazéns Cunhas
Praça de Gomes Teixeira 14-22
Manuel Marques, Manuel Amoroso Lopes & Coelho Freitas, 1933-1936
This clothing store, located opposite the rectory of the University of Porto, is one of the most representative Art Deco buildings in the city. The most remarkable decorative feature on its façade is a peacock with stretched-out feathers on the third-floor wall.
18. Livraria Latina
Rua de Santa Catarina 2
The Latina Bookstore was founded in 1942 by writer and editor Henrique Perdigão. To celebrate its opening, he held a literary contest, the first one ever in Portugal. In the following years, he also published many books. The patron of the store was Luís de Camões, whose bust can be seen at the corner of its iron façade, conversing with the female bust of the Reis & Filhos jewellery store.