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oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (4)

Derelict and abandoned… but not giving up

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Oporto, Portugal

Blue and white tiles. Each, meaningless. But together, a grand image taking people off the street and inside the creation for a minute.

All through the streets of Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, these tiled mosaics bring life to the roads, the pathways, and the squares. But behind the colourful and active displays is a community of dereliction.

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A bust has followed a boom. Porto was once an epicentre of trade and production – it was produce like fruit, nuts and olive oils that were popular in the Middle Ages. And then it was the eponymous Port wine. You can still visit the active cellars of the large companies like Taylors and see how the wine has been made for centuries. But, although it is a successful business and a pleasant place for a tour and a tasting, it does not an entire economy support.

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (9)

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (10)

As the national finances of Portugal have hit rocky times, business has become more centralised in Lisbon, and Porto has suffered. Slowly it has been abandoned. The latest census shows that in the past decade, the centre of the city has lost a third of its population.

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (1)

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (2)

The elegant and impressive Stock Exchange Palace in the centre of the city is a reminder of what once was. Built in the 19th century, it was where the merchants and the trade unions would come to do their business and sort out their disputes. But today, from the windows on the upper level, you can look out and see the husks of the abandoned buildings.

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (5)

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (6)

About one in every five buildings in central Porto is abandoned and derelict at the moment. That’s 20 per cent of the urban centre! They are beautiful structures, evidence of the care and respect that was once here, but now just toxic assets. It costs too much to restore, it is too much of a loss to sell, it’s not even economically sensible to just maintain. So the buildings just sit there and slowly succumb to the combination of time and neglect.

oporto, porto, portugal, abandoned buildings, derelict buildings, unesco world heritage (11)

The effects on the city have been described as “ominous” by some of the residents, although it’s hard to gauge as a visitor. One local group called Arrebita, which is trying to bring renewal to the urban area says the mass abandonment is “impacting everything from its urban identity and safety to the management of infrastructures and living standards, especially of those already most deprived”.

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Arrebita is working on a project to develop innovative ways to regenerate the structures in a way that helps the whole community and brings back the energy Porto once had. It is getting support from philanthropic organisations which will help fix up the buildings at no cost to the owners, but in a way that will be beneficial for the whole economy.

It will be a long effort, though, in the current climate. Thankfully, in the meantime, there are still plenty of reasons to visit. My time in Porto has been wonderful and I’ve enjoyed what it has had to offer – a friendly social scene, beautiful views along the river, and a glimpse into the heights of Portugal’s past.

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It’s just a bit sad to see the reality of the present and the challenges which the city faces. Still, each of these abandoned buildings may lack meaning for now. They may be just a shell of potential. But together, the city has not lost its heart.

UNESCO world heritage site
This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Porto and Northern Portugal Tourism Association but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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20 Comments
  • Jack from eyeflare travel tips | Jan 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

    I found Porto to be beautiful and grimy as well. The port ‘factories’ are quite interesting (and a 40 year old tipple divine). It’s really a shame to see gorgeous buildings like these crumble away, let’s hope there’s some recovery within the next decade, though I think they’d need to do some very serious expansion at the port for that to actually happen.
    Jack from eyeflare travel tips recently posted..The Geffrye Museum, LondonMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      I think you’re right. It’s going to be hard to justify restoring all these buildings without an injection of industry. It’s a pity because it’s a beautiful place.

  • Maria | Acceleratedstall | Jan 3, 2013 at 11:28 am

    With a post like this, tourism should benefit – Porto is now on my list.
    Maria | Acceleratedstall recently posted..Soul TemptingMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:02 pm

      Tourism would definitely help the place. And it’s a wonderful place to visit. If anyone is heading to Portugal, I recommend popping it on the list.

  • Vera | Jan 3, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    I agree with Maria – I love crumbly cities. Admittedly it helps if the buildings that crumble are beautiful (crumbling tower blocks depress me). Sure, it would be nicer if they could be restored, but it can add a certain flair to a city when said one has a personality – and Porto seems to be quite charismatic. I actually prefer a place like this over a beautifully restored, yet lifeless city any day!
    Also I’d like to say that ‘derelict’ is a word that I first heard about when watching “Zoolander”, undoubtedly one of the greatest movies ever. You should watch it, if you haven’t yet.
    Vera recently posted..The Black Temple of Chiang RaiMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Oh puh-lease, Vera. Of course I have watched Zoolander! I model every one of my photos on Blue Steel. But in normally just comes out looking more like a Rusty Iron.

  • Stephen | Jan 3, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    I agree it’s sad that so many buildings are crumbling, but it does add to Porto’s appeal. It’s grit and grime and authenticity are what make it one of my favorite few cities in Europe. Nice post. Hopefully more people will appreciate the beauty of Porto.
    Stephen recently posted..The Beauty of Florence [in Photos]My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      I’m glad you saw the beauty in it too. In some ways I really like it because it tells a story and gives you an insight into the community of Porto. of course, they would probably like the buildings just to be restored, I imagine.

  • Laura @Travelocafe | Jan 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Porto is a magical city. We loved it so much when we visited last year that we can’t wait to go back again.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Japan Highlights: Top 10 Places to Visit in TokyoMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      It did feel like the kind of place you could spend a lot of time in. I loved the vibe and the friendliness of the city.

  • ANGLO/Dale | Jan 4, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    I’ve never been, but I could find myself in a heart beat moving there to help encourage the long-term prosperity of Porto. I hate to see great buildings go to such waste.
    ANGLO/Dale recently posted..Artful Adoption for Abandoned Houses in NaoshimaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      You could probably pick up a building quite cheap and then spend some time and love restoring it yourself. That would be a wonderful project for someone… (and then I can come and stay!!) :)

  • Daene | filipinainflipflops.com | Jan 6, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    I love old, ornate buildings – even ones that are falling into disrepair. There’s a different kind of beauty to be found in old neglected buildings. But hopefully the economy of Porto recovers – not just for these structures, but also (and especially) for the welfare of its citizens.
    Daene | filipinainflipflops.com recently posted..3 Korean Meals Worth Waiting In Line For In Seoul, South KoreaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      I hope it recovers too. It’s a bit sad to see what a city was like.. and then what it has become. But all the people I met were so lovely and friendly. The city has a good attitude.

  • Lillie - @WorldLillie | Jan 7, 2013 at 1:48 am

    Michael, your blog is on fire lately! Gem after gem.
    I also loved Porto: http://www.aroundtheworldl.com/2010/04/02/the-importance-of-setting-objectives-as-seen-in-porto-portugal/
    Lillie – @WorldLillie recently posted..The Best Thing To Do On a Long Layover in LondonMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Thanks Lillie. And that’s a great piece about Porto! I’m glad you got to the bookstore… it was really cool (although they’re so strict about taking photos!)

  • Jeremy | Jan 15, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    I’ve been to Lisbon which is probably the best off area in Portugal and still felt it quite derelict compared to the rest of Europe, hell even Latin America! But, I think that’s what’s endearing about it, authenticity which is hard to find in Western Europe.
    Jeremy recently posted..The Tallest Cathedral in the World!My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Jan 17, 2013 at 3:14 am

      True – it’s definitely authentic. There is a charm in that as a visitor. I hope the residents don’t lose that and can use it to their advantage.

  • Olívia Justo | Apr 5, 2013 at 6:26 am

    I live in Porto and I must say that unfortunately what you say is true but the city is improving, despite of the economical situation of the country. Above all this, Porto is really an amazing city, very authentic :) I always discover new things in the city, I invite you to visit my blog about Porto, hope you like it! http://www.portosweethome.com/

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 16, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Thanks for the link to your blog. I love finding out more about Porto. It was such a beautiful place and had such a wonderful heart. It’s certainly not the only place in the world dealing with tough economic times at the moment, but the spirit in Porto hasn’t dimmed at all!

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