Cathedrals to God, Football on Display in Braga

Declan built our entire trip to Portugal upon a trip to Braga, to see the S. C. Braga football stadium blasted out of a former rock quarry. So it was natural that our final day trip was to Portugal’s third-largest city, about 75 minutes by train north and slightly east of Porto.

‘The Quarry’ a Site to Behold

The Municipal Stadium of Braga (Estádio Municipal de Braga) opened in 2004, following two years of difficult construction that saw costs triple beyond initial projections, according to our stadium tour guide. The result, however, is a magnificent cathedral to football, with great sightlines throughout and graceful, sloping roofs over each stand, connected by steel cords.

Beyond one goalpost, exposed rocks give the stadium a rugged feel, and beyond the other, you’ll find sweeping city views. Just under the roof on the right side, you’ll see a stainless steel gutter and downspout that looks like a piece of a Mousetrap game. In fact, that’s the water reclamation system.

Sitting in the home stand, you’ll quickly notice a large grey concrete edifice to the left beyond the visitors’ seats that looks like a half-finished construction project. It is, our guide says, the result of cost overruns that forced other projects to be canceled. This was supposed to be an Olympic size swimming pool and other amenities for the Sporting Clube de Braga, which includes sports such as basketball and badminton as well as football.

Portuguese architect Eduardo Souto de Moura won a Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2011 for the design of the 30,000-seat stadium, which our guide says is pricey to maintain. They’d like to have a stadium store on site, but the architect has the final say and doesn’t want it to ruin the “look” of the stadium. So Declan’s belated birthday Braga jersey would have to be bought in town.

Jesus is the Bom

But upon first arriving in Braga, we saw a shuttle for Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount) outside the train station, the other stop on our Braga tour, so we went there first. While the church itself is impressive, what’s truly amazing are its hilltop location and three sets of winding staircases built in the 18th century that allow for contemplation on the climb.

There is a funicular (think Incline Railway) at the shuttle stop that will take you to the top. We just missed it, and, despite a lingering ankle sprain, I’m glad we did. Riding to the top in one go means you’d miss out on the thrill of discovery around nearly every corner as you gain altitude.

The first staircase is in shadow and represents the Stations of the Cross in circular domes. I will say this area, especially the stations, needs a little renovation work. Rising higher and out of the treeline is The Stairway of the Five Senses (Escadaria dos Cinco Sentidos), with playful water fountains with water squirting from eyes, ears, nose and mouths of various statues. Highest is the Stairway of the Three Virtues (Escadaria das Três Virtudes) dedicated to faith, hope and charity.

In addition to the church on the hilltop, you’ll find a man-made cave with running water as well as restaurants and a hotel. A shaded bench provided the perfect spot to eat the sandwiches we’d brought from the flat and contemplate all we’d seen that morning.

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