Discovering alternative Porto /A descobra do Porto alternativo

img_6235NB: Há uma versão curta em português no fim do artigo

We met Patricia last week for a project about enhancing intercultural tolerance among children, in which FAJDP is collaborating. As she was leaving, she mentioned that her association, ContraBando, was organizing an alternative tour of Porto for its first anniversary on Sunday. I thought it would be a perfect occasion to improve my Portuguese, to discover unknown places in Porto and to meet interesting people. It turned out that the guide, Gui, speaks French and English perfectly and (fortunately in retrospect) translated everything. But I did get to meet a group of far-left activists who taught me a lot about the protests and movements that happened during the past few years in Porto and in Portugal, as well as I discovered unexpected and beautiful places, out of the famous city center.

ContraBando: a group of activists aiming at boosting Porto’s cultural and political alternative movements

The association ContraBando was born in July 2015, funded by activists with different interests: access to housing, feminism, LGBT rights, climate change, wanting to “create new forms of activism, create bridges among experiences, re-invent organization patterns of the city to fight austerity”. 

The creation of ContraBando, which is a collective of people but also a concrete space, was both the result of:

The several activits that I met during the tour, whether they belong to Contrabando or not, regret the fact that inhabitants of Porto are not more involved in the political debate. They see Contrabando as a way to raise awareness and interest for the questions they ask, the issues they point out and the solutions they propose. Thus, they organize numerous events: conferences, movies, debates, demonstrations etc. One of their most significant and publicized action was the organization of the Festival Feminista do Porto last october, which should be repeated next year.

Here is a list of associations that are close to ContreBando’s views, given by Patricia. Even if you don’t share all their ideas, these spaces seem to all have an original and identity and to organize interesting events, it could be worth to go  and have a look :

Espaço Compasso (workshops, cultural and artistic events), Rés-da-Rua (collective diners,  workshops, concerts), Gato Vadio (book store, debates, movies), Casa da Horta (vegan food, concerts), Confederação (theatre, cinema)

The Worst Tours: architects of Porto with alternative analysis, stances and proposals

The Worst Tours is an association of 3 architects of Porto, Gui, Pedro and Isabel, organizing alternative tours of their city. They started these tours in an informal way in the end of 2012, as a response to the “economic destruction” of the city

“Kids of the recession present: the f*ck-it-all concept. Portugal, 2014. Austerity Killed the economy. The movie was bad and the sequels are even worse …  Fancy a walk?”

Their initiative was successful and quite publicized, alternative websites but also touristic sites and famous Anglo-Saxon newspapers made an article about it. A few months ago, they decided to take a step forward: they turned into an association and settled down their activity in a “kiosque”, rented from the City Hall, near the Jardim San Lazaro, which allows them to adress directly people in the street.

The tour lasted 4 hours, and Gui talks really fast because she has a lot to say, so I will no sum up everything here (which, besides, wouldn’t be a very good incentive for you to go and see for yourself !). I will only sum up the main ideas that she developed a during this tour, always illustrating and reinforcing them with drawings, maps, articles, and elements of urban economy and sociology.

Gentrification and the industry of tourism

The process of gentrification is just getting started in Porto, way after most of the big european cities. The renewal and renovation of the city center is correlated with the tremendous growth of tourism that Porto has been undergoing. In 3 or 4 years the prices of the housing market raised significantly, even if they remain low compared to european standards. It is interesting to note that the ilhas, a type of urbanization developed for the workers in the 19th, could be an obstacle to the gentrification process by allowing people with low income to remain in the city center, since they remain cheap due to their specificities (see above).

Ilhas in Porto
“An ilha is a type of collective housing typical of Porto. It is a private space composed by many tiny houses located inside the neighbourhoods quarters, in the backyards of the bourgeois houses of the 19th century.
The ilhas have commonly 10-12 houses in each side of a narrow (1,20m) and long corridor that leads to the street. The ilhas emerged as an immediate response to the lack of housing for accommodating the large numbers of rural population arriving to Porto in the mid 19th century, to work in the new factories of the recent industrialization.”



Austerity, impoverishment and shrinking shops

She also underlines that shops keep closing at an alarming pace in Porto, and blames the austerity policies, encouraged by the EU, for having considerably reduced the standards of living, the purchasing power of its inhabitants, consequently reducing considerably the local market.

Abandoned spaces, property rights and taxes

There are a lot of abandoned spaces and buildings in Porto, we went through several of them during the tour. Gui and her colleagues advocate raising taxes on owners of these unused spaces in order to create an incentive for them to sell them so that they can benefit the population, according to its needs and ideas.

Uma ilha
One store to sell
Street art in an abandoned place
Former industrial site

As Gui explained, the ” a bit unrealistic but let’s try way anyway” goal of the Worst Tours  is to make people from different cities, including Porto, meet and talk about urban and socio-economic processes happening where they live, of interesting solutions that have been implemented etc. This sharing of experiences should be a way to avoid making the same mistakes that have been done in other cities. But Gui admits that for now they haven’t managed to attract many inhabitants of Porto in their tours. Having a website almost completely in English, as well as their name may have been an obstacle to reach more locals. This is one of the reasons that led them to rent a kiosque and be present in the street, offering maps and a space of discussion to people.

Getting to know wild, green and unknown Porto

As promised we did discover unsuspected places in Porto. One of our first stops was at Quinta Musas da Fontinha. It is an association, near Faria Guimarães metro station, which has been opening for a few years its large backyard to local associations willing to grow products there, in a sustainable way of course ! It is also a very surprising, wild and a bit crazy place to see. The ruins that you see on these pictures are what’s left of an ilha.

During the last part of the tour we walked to the east of Porto, along the river. I had never been there and, as a matter of a fact, there is not much reason to, except to discover a beautiful abandoned green area along the old railways, with great views. Gui underlined the fact that these spaces are likely to go through great transformations in the next decade, if the movement of gentrification and rehabilitation of the city center keeps going.



To conclude, this tour allowed me to understand the tremendous impact that the economic crisis and the austerity measures had had on Porto but also on the alternative movements of the city. Since 2014, the protest movements have considerably decreased in Porto and the austerity measures have been slightly softened. Nevertheless going on this tour made me see that Porto is still facing important issues, as well as that these alternative movements are trying to overcome the challenge of reaching a wider audience and recreating a popular dynamic around their fights.

Also, as a “Portuense” told me on the tour :

” They are so many secrets, unexpected spaces like that in Porto, this city is way more beautiful than you first think it is.” (NB: I already thought it was really beautiful)

Em Português

No domingo passado, eu participei num « Worst tour » do Porto. Este tour foi organizado para o primeiro aniversário da associação ContraBando, que “é um espaço aberto à comunidade, de gente inconformada que vê na cultura uma forma de encontro, auto-organização, ativismo e participação.”

O que é a ContraBando ?

ContraBando nasceu em 2015, da reunião de vários associações e coletivos de ativistas de esquerda. Este coletivo organiza, no seu espaço, muitos eventos para desenvolver a implicação política dos Portuenses: debates, conferências, filmes, etc. A principal ação que eles organizaram até agora foi o Festival Feminista do Porto, em outubro passado, que conseguiu mobilizar um publico bastante  numeroso. Ele deveria repetir-se brevemente.

O que são os “worst tours” ?

Os “worst tours” são um grupo de 3 arquitetos do Porto, que começaram a fazer “tours” alternativos na cidade no fim de 2012. O objetivo deles é mostrar a todos: turistas, Portuenses, Portugueses, os resultados da crise e das medidas da austeridade, impostos pela União Europeia. Além disso, os “worst tours” falam sobre o processo recente de gentrificação, em relação com a subida do turismo. Mas os tours são também sobre “tascas e associações e hortas e centros comunitários e escolas e bairros e ruas e tascas e miradouros e praias e cafés e  concertos e praças para conhecer.”

Há alguns meses, eles decidiram tornar-se uma associação e arrendar um quiosque, no Jardim S. Lázaro, para ficar na rua e dirigir-se aos Portuenses diretamente.

Durante o “worst tour”, eu descobri vários lugares lindos, inesperados, um pouco escondidos e um pouco loucos : um jardim espontâneo partilhado pela associação Quinta Musas da Fontinha perto de Faria Guimarães, as margens verdes do Douro a leste da Ponte D. Luís, algumas ilhas na rua de S. Victor…

Por tudo isso, acho que participar num “worst tour” pode ser muito interessante para todos, mesmo que vocês não partilhem de todas as ideias deles.

Practical details: 

All tours starts in the square of Marques.

You shall one tour from their website, in which 4 types are proposed: ilhas, trades, sites that have been occupied, romantic period / public participation housing projects. Nevertheless, Pedro and Gui are flexible and adapt to the interests of the people.

There is no fixed price, which means that you can give whatever you feel like to.


Find them in their yellow and arty Kiosque in Jardim San Lazoro

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