Derelict and abandoned… but not giving up

Oporto (Porto) was once an economic boom town. But these days it’s losing residents and buildings are falling into disrepair. What can be done to save it?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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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.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal
Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal
Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal
Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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”.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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.

Derelict buildings in Oporto, Portugal

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.

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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29 thoughts on “Derelict and abandoned… but not giving up”

  1. 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.

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  2. 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.

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  3. 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.

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    • 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.

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    • 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!!) 🙂

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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.

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  6. 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/

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    • 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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  7. Watch the video “glass walls” with a very important message from Paul McCartney and know what you eat
    Warning: Explicit violent content towards animals

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  8. I`m very curious as to when you posted this. I can`t seem to find a date. I`m in Porto right now. Yes, there are many abandoned buildings, but at the same time I see rejuvenation everywhere. I find the city beautiful with a feeling of history unrivalled by many other European cities. Thanks of your reply.

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    • It’s a great question, Laura. I wrote this article about five years ago (2012). I imagine a lot has changed since then. I would love to go back soon and have a look at he differences in Porto. It’s interesting to hear your perspective!

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    • I think a lot of them will get restored at some point. But, just like you, people need to have spare money that they can invest in the renovations… and that’s why it’s been a slow process.

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  9. Well I was just visiting Porto and I saw these abandoned and quite creepy buildings to be fair (some areas even smell badly) and I wondered if this city is overrated… because yes, there is a lot of charm. Still I was intrigued. I come from Romania and there are at least 4 or 5 cities so full of charm and beautiful abandoned buildings that only a few foreigners know (like Constanța or Brăila or Sulina, in the south, near the Black Sea). But unlike them, Porto has sooo many tourists and reading this review with the comments I see that so many people love Porto maybe too much. For me, the abandoned buildings made me appreciate those romanian cities and wonder where did my country did wrong, because the only visited area in Romania is Transylvania. That’s unfair…

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  10. Hi mate!

    As a Porto local, reading your post based on a visit that happened just 7 years ago made me realize how quickly the city changed. It really is remarkable!

    I remember growing up in the 90’s and the historic centre was a no-go area, where the humbler, lower-class families had to live door-to-door with prostitutes, addicts and drug dealers. Then things started getting better with the rise of tourism.

    But what about today?

    Well, nowadays the tourism scene has definitely exploded and the city centre has gone through a full-on gentrification process. The derelict buildings are all but gone, and the few crumbling structures you can still find in the downtown area have all been sold to hospitality businesses and real estate investors. Signs of the times I guess!

    If 20 years ago the downtown was empty because no one wanted to live there, nowadays not many locals inhabit it because barely no one can afford to do so. The tourist boom has its ups and downs. In one hand, it helped the city (the whole country really) recover from the huge 2010-2015 economic crisis. However, it also made rent prices skyrocket all over the city, making it pretty hard for the middle and lower classes to find affordable housing.

    Anyway, your post made me nostalgic 🙂

    Keep up the good work!

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  11. It looks like this is an older article. We returned from a few days in Porto November 2022 and it was such a delightful city. We did a walking tour and there are so many interesting areas – did not feel the dereliction. The waterfront area is hopping and rivaled a lot of other cities that we’ve visited. We had come from Lisbon and it felt like a city that you could get your arms around. We were only there 2 days and wished we had more time there to explore.

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