The (Recent) Travels of a Journalist-A FORAY INTO NORTH PORTUGAL TO UNCOVER PORTO AND BRAGA
Posted on August 14th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2010

 (PART 2: Braga and Bom Jesus)

On arrival back at the Braga Railway Station Sunday (18 July) evening, Yoke-Sim and I bluffed our way by foot to Theatro Circo on Avenida da Liberdade, the venue of the official opening ceremony of the IAMCR conference. Because we did not have a detailed street map, we depended on amiable passers-by to give us directions. Our hunch was that the distance between the station and the theater was about 1.5 km.

Exploration by default

From the station, we hurried north on Largo da Estacao, where the bus driver dropped us off in the morning. At the Avenida Antonio Macedo roundabout, we turned east on Rua Andrade Corvo until we reached the Arco do Porta Nova (“arc of the new door” or New City Gate), which has decorated the western gate of the medieval wall in SƒÆ’†’© parish since 1512.

The wall reminded us of the ancient origins of Braga, which was known as Bracara Augusta, the capital of Gallaecia province, under the Roman Empire. Today, the Braga Municipality (pop. 177,183) is slightly larger than the city. It is now the center of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Minho with a population of 826,833.

From the Arc, we walked along a narrow pedestrian lane called Rua de Souto, which seemed to legitimize the claim that Braga is the oldest Portuguese city and, to boot, one of the oldest Christian cities in the world. We walked past the Museu Imagem [photography museum] opened in 1999; the Igreja  [church] da Misericordia de Braga, an edifice of the Renaissance period built in 1562; the SƒÆ’†’© Catedral, one of the most important historical buildings in Portugal; and the Casa Paivas ou da Roda [house of the wheel] until we reached Avenida da Liberdade. A female street musician and a young woman who was walking toward our destination were the last two to give us directions.

Ours was an unintended and unorthodox method of exploring the heart of a strange city””‚exploration by default.

At Theatro Circo

Although we missed the opening speeches of Braga Mayor Francisco Mequita Machado and IAMCR President Annabelle Sreberny, the ASK ME coterie of CSRC, helped us find seats in the 899-seat auditorium to listen to the remaining heavyweights. After the speeches, the Theatro took on its proper role as a place of entertainment when it presented a musical bonanza by the inimitable Portuguese singer Maria Joao with Mario Laginha on the piano.  The international audience gave them a standing ovation for this magnificent welcome.

The organizers had apparently wanted the 1,300 or so conference participants from all over the world to spread the word about the historical Theatro Circo, “one of the largest and most beautiful theaters of Portugal.” The theater, designed by architect Moura Coutinho, was inaugurated on 21 April 1915 with the Leoncavallo Operetta La reginetta delle rose. The building is one of the most important architectural works in Braga built in the early 20th century.

 Although the usual post-opening-ceremony reception was absent on this occasion, yet participants gathered in front of the theater to meet old friends and make new ones. Yoke-Sim and I got engrossed in conversation with an Indian couple, Abhijit Sen and his wife Sanchala, who were attending the IAMCR conference for the first time.

The Sens joined us for dinner at a restaurant facing the city’s elegant water fountain in Praca [square] da Republica, about 300 meters north of the Theatro. Sen, an associate professor of mass communication at Winston Salem State University in North Carolina, had read my academic work on de-Wesrenizing the communication field. Both of us were specialists in international communication. After dinner, we returned to our respective hotels by taxi since we missed the free bus.

The conference went on from Monday through Thursday. The organizers had taken pains to arrange courtesy transportation for all participants on local bus routes.  Thus, the municipal bus drivers, as well as the city dwellers, were well aware of our presence in Braga for the next four days. Clearly, the remote city of Braga considered it an honor to host an international conference!

On Gualtar Campus

Luis Pereira was back in action as our chief transportation organizer. Each day, he appeared at the Comfort Inn sharp at 8 a.m. to see that its share of participants got a ride on the courtesy bus to the Gualtar campus of Universidade do Minho, the conference venue, six kilometers northeast of Comfort Inn on the highway that runs parallel to the Rio [river] Este (see Figure 1).

Monday morning, we found out that reaching the conference venue from the bus stop on hilly Gualtar campus was a mildly uphill task. Good exercise for indolent eggheads, though.    

Our registration packets contained all the meal tickets we needed, the conference program souvenir and other important tidbits. We became official participants of the conference when we attended the first plenary session.

We had to climb uphill another one-half kilometer or so to eat our lunch at the Gualtar Campus cafeteria. The Sens joined us for lunch. The walk back to the parallel sessions automatically took care of the digestive problems of the participants. After eating lunch Monday afternoon, I walked in to watch Sen’s presentation of his paper “Media, Hinduism and Buddhism: Mainstream media coverage of Asia’s two major religions.”

A public university founded in 1973, Universidade do Minho has an enrollment of more than 15,000 students (including some 2,000 in graduate studies), a faculty of 1.100 and a staff of about 600 employees.

Braga and Bom Jesus

Courtesy of the IAMCR, we had the privilege of visiting a remarkable religious sanctuary in Braga””‚Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount), a notable example of a pilgrimage site with a monumental, Baroque stairway that climbs 116 meters (381 feet).

Located four kilometers east of the Gualtar campus, this was the venue of the conference dinner Wednesday.

Archbishop Rodrigo de Moura Telles of Braga initiated work on the sanctuary in 1772. Its design placed the temple of God, the church, at the top of the hill with an awesome set of stairways divided into three broad areas: The first stairway row has chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross). The next set of stairways, which takes a zigzag form, is dedicated to the Five Senses””‚Sight, Smell. Touch, Hearing and Taste””‚each represented by a different fountain. The third stairway, which also follows a zigzag pattern, is dedicated to the Three Theological Virtues“”‚Faith, Hope and Charity””‚each with its fountain. As the Wikipedia explains:

As the pilgrims climbed the stairs, they encountered a theological program 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 gives the idea of purification of the faithful.

The Bom Jesus funicular, which the Swiss engineer Nicklaus Riggenbach built in 1882, has a 274-meter long track that descends the hill’s 116-meter height at an average gradient of 42 percent. It is the oldest water-ballast funicular in the world. The journey on the two-car funicular (with a capacity of 38 people per car) takes 2.4 to four minutes.

We ate dinner on the grounds of the Good Jesus Sanctuary””‚a place where we listened to The Burgundian Combo while eating and chatting with an international group of colleagues.  On the terrace of Hotel du Parque, I had a nostalgic conversation with long-time friend John Lent who was instrumental in placing me on the faculty of Universiti Sains Malaysia in the early 1970s. He is still teaching full-time at Temple University.

Bits and Pieces

Yoke-Sim and I took the public bus to the Braga city center on Thursday afternoon for exploring the area around Praca da Republica again.   We cut through the Santa Barbara shopping area to the Arco da Porta Nova for the second time. Then, we returned to the campus by another bus in time to attend the IAMCR General Assembly session. We went to the city center Monday evening as well to regale ourselves at the opening reception of IAMCR at Casa dos Coimbras (Largo Santa Cruz 506).

The Braga experience made me wary of using toilets in Portugal. To conserve energy, the good Portuguese have set the toilet lights to switch off automatically. If a toilet user failed to meet that time limit, he/she would have to toil in the pitch dark.  I faced this situation both at the Theatro Circo and the Gualtar Campus.

We checked out of Comfort Inn Friday after breakfast. Luis Pereira made all the arrangements for our transportation to the Francisco de SƒÆ’†’¡ Carneiro Airport in Pedras Rubras for our return trip to Gatwick, London. We wished that Luis were there to say goodbye.

 (The author is professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.)

 Figure 1: BRAGA MAP. The highway from A=Universidade do Minho (Gualtar Campus) to F =Comfort Inn lies along Rio Este. C=Theatro Circo and D=Praca da Republica are in the Braga City Center. E= Braga Train Station. B=Bom Jesus do Monte.

 Picture 1: The author and his wife Yoke-Sim on the top stairway below the Temple of God, Bom Jesus do Monte. (21 July 2010)

 Picture 2: Abhijit Sen and his wife Sanchala whom the author met at the IAMCR Conference in Braga. (21 July 2010)

 Picture 3: Panoramic view of Braga, Portugal.(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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