The main railway station in Porto is famous for its tiled walls. Dating back to 1896 (although the official opening was in 1916), the station reminds me of Brighton station every time I arrive there. It’s full of light, colour and immediately take you back to the times when rail travel was more than just about getting from A to B.
Unlike a standard train station, the platforms aren’t the busiest area. The entrance halls with display boards actually has the largest number of people milling around, and most of them are tourists taking photos of the blue and white azulejo tiles which adorn the walls. Telling stories of major events in Portuguese history, these were designed to educate even those who could not read at a time when transport and travel became more accessible for all classes.
The grand entrance hall has been modernised with LCD screens indicating departure times but overall it still has an old-world feel. As well as an old clock in the stained glass window, there are original signs which indicate arrivals and departures and the roof in the platform area brings in much needed light on a rainy day.
There are 20,000 tiles on the walls of São Bento train station and every single one is tin-glazed. Tiles are a famous Portuguese export and much like the pottery and glassware made at Vista Alegre, the Portuguese still maintain their high quality levels and are famed for their production, holding strong against cheaper imports from other countries.
The tiles were painted in 1905 and 1906 by the artist Jorge Colaço, known at the time as the best producer of azulejo tiles in Portugal. Needless to say, given that this is a must-see place for anyone visiting Porto, his toil was well worth it.
The main cross country and inter-country (trains to Spain and beyond up through France) leave from Porto Campanhã so if you’re just passing through and you have the time, it’s definitely worth catching the train to São Bento (3 minute journey) to see the tiled walls, Victorian ironwork and the sun glinting through the roof windows.