Braga, the third largest city in Portugal, is famed for its religious monuments. The highlight of our day trip to Braga was definitely Bom Jesus do Mounte. The extra effort of riding 15 minutes on bus to get there after the one hour train journey was worth it! We both agreed that Bom Jesus was actually the highlight of our Portugal stay so far.
A brand new UNESCO site (just listed in 2019), Bom Jesus is a notable example of a pilgrimage site with a monumental zigzag Baroque stairway that climbs 116 meters. The present Sanctuary started being built in 1722, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Telles.
The first set of stairs comprise of three levels, each dedicated to the virtues of Charity, Hope and Faith, and is represented by a statue. The second set of stairs (the lower set) have five levels, and signify the five bodily senses, and each of these through a fountain where water pours from some poor souls eyes, ears, nose or mouth.
We loved the imagery of the long, wide, stone inlaid pathway up to the start of the stairs, where on each turn sat a large chapel hosting one of the Passion scenes with life size characters. Then turning to the stairs you are struck with the beautiful symmetry of stairs, the landings, and the twin spires of the church.
According to Wikipedia: "As the pilgrims climbed the stairs, (by tradition encouraged to do so on their knees) they encountered a theological programme that contrasted the senses of the material world with the virtues of the spirit, at the same time as they experienced the scenes of the Passion of Christ. The culmination of the effort was the temple of God, the church on the top of the hill. The presence of several fountains along the stairways give the idea of purification of the faithful."
In addition to the amazing architecture of the stairways and the ultimate church on the hill, we were also blown away by the beautiful gardens and the expansive forested ground. We spent quite some time exploring the ground and discovered more religious structures. Walking in the forest was a bonus as we have been craving some nature and fresh air. The whole Sanctuary was the ultimate mixture of inspiring architecture, peaceful nature and spiritual purification.
Once back in the city we were greeted by more churches mostly in Baroque and Gothic style, including the Church of Santa Cruz, Igreja de São Marcos church and the Cathedral just to name a few.
Wandering around the historic center, we were struck by the large pedestrian only areas which made our exploring experience very pleasant because you weren't being assailed by traffic non-stop.
We were also amazed at the amount of green space, well planted and maintained gardens with vibrant flowers (especially The Jardim de Santa Barbara), and tree lined streets that are missing from Porto. There also seemed to be a lot less graffiti, less abandoned buildings, and it was certainly a lot cleaner.
All in all Braga is a great city of history, architecture and nature. With ample open spaces and certainly with the additional green spaces and areas like Bom Jesus (a lot of locals running and exercising there which made us very jealous), we feel that we could happily spend a decent amount of time in Braga as a slow traveller.
The train journey from Sao Bento station in Porto to Braga took about one hour one way and costs €6.50 return per person.
The bus we caught in Braga to Bom Jesus was Route 02 in front of Pingo Doce (R. dos Congregados 23, 4710-427 Braga). Its costs €1.65 one way per person and the trip takes 10-20 minutes depending on the traffic.