In Braga: a walk to Bom Jesus do Monte - Vuelta a Iberia - CycleBlaze

September 27, 2019

In Braga: a walk to Bom Jesus do Monte

We started off slowly this morning.  We’re staying in an apartment with all the facilities, and Rachael fixed us a fine cheese/egg scramble for breakfast, along with cereal, toast, and coffee.  It’s a nice change of pace to start out with breakfast in the room.  Over coffee, we talk through our situation and engage in a bit of planning.

First off is the stupid suitcase situation.  We sent off a gripe last night to the hotel in Valencia, suggesting that they might make us whole from the impact of their error by giving us a free night’s lodging or even two, since that’s about what it cost us in wasted shipping fees.  They apologized for the inconvenience, offered us a 15% discount and a free breakfast, so we cancelled them and found a different hotel.  

Next, we considered my health and our planned itinerary.  I’m pretty well under the weather this morning - congested, sore throat, apathetic.  I haven’t even bothered unloading photos from the last few days, which Rachael regards as conclusive evidence that I’m not faring well.  The main thing I fear with colds is having them turn into a long-lasting bronchial infection, something I have a history with.  I don’t really mind missing a few days, but a month of this would be awful.

We decide that at a minimum we should plan on staying here another night.  We can’t extend the stay we have unfortunately, but we find a nice enough B&B that we can move on to tomorrow.  After that, I head back to bed (one great thing about this apartment is that there are two separate bedrooms, so I can toss, turn, cough and add to my mountain of gross kleenexes without disturbing Rachael), and Rachael steps out the door for a long day hike she has mapped out.

About an hour later, Rachael calls.  She’s at Bom Jesus do Monte, a renowned pilgrimage site a few miles east of Braga.  I was aware of this site from its photographs, but didn’t know that it was quite so close.  She’s calling to let me know that it’s completely amazing, and that if there’s any way at all that I can muster the energy to get out there, I should do it.  She suggests a taxi or bus.

I lie around in a bit of a fog for awhile, but after reading up on the site in our Kindle guidebook, I finally decide I should just walk there.  Bom Jesus is at the top of a small mountain, with a fantastic staircase leading up to it.  The guidebook says that pilgrims were encouraged to climb up on their knees.  I have rather bad knees, so I’m not doing that; but at least I can walk three and a half miles to get there, with the suffering from my cold helping me get into the spirit of an arduous pilgrimage.

The first two miles take me through Braga’s core and eastern suburbs.  It’s enough exposure for me to see that Braga, the third largest city in Portugal, is a special place.  Sick or not, I’m glad we’re here; and hopefully by staying another day I’ll have enough energy to get a better look at it tomorrow.

Central Braga has some beautiful long pedestrianized streets that go on for blocks. This is the garden of the Avenue da Liberdade.
Heart 3 Comment 0
I love Portuguese architecture, particularly the use of ceramic tile. This is Senhora-a-Brancha church.
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This is a common residential building style - ceramic tile facade and a balcony with a wrought iron balustrade. Also, look at the street numbers below - it looks like these must be narrow, multistory slot houses, a single room wide.
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The diversity is striking, and makes so many buildings worth a closer look. The tile and wrought iron patterns all look unique.
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I get my first view of Bom Jesus do Monte soon after leaving the apartment.  It’s atop a small mountain, so it’s visible from anywhere where there’s a good sightline.  Now that I’m closing in though, it’s less visible with the trees in the foreground.  I won’t get a real look until I’m standing at the base of the staircase.

While we’re waiting for me to slowly walk up the steep hill, part of the way plodding along on the ever popular cobblestone streets, we can learn a bit about what we’re about to see.  You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that it’s a UNESCO world heritage site.  I was surprised because it wasn’t described as such in my guidebook.  And it’s not described as such in my guidebook because it’s one of the newest designations in the world, announced by UNESCO only two months ago!

You could open the link and see for yourself, but for your convenience here’s their description of the site:

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (Portugal) — The site, a cultural landscape located on the slopes of Mount Espinho, overlooking the city of Braga in the north of Portugal, evokes Christian Jerusalem, recreating a sacred mount crowned with a church. The sanctuary was developed over a period of more than 600 years, primarily in a Baroque style, and illustrates a European tradition of creating Sacri Monti (sacred mountains), promoted by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. The Bom Jesus ensemble is centred on a Via Crucis that leads up the western slope of the mount. It includes a series of chapels that house sculptures evoking the Passion of Christ, as well as fountains, allegorical sculptures and formal gardens. The Via Crucis culminates at the church, which was built between 1784 and 1811. The granite buildings have whitewashed plaster façades, framed by exposed stonework. The celebrated Stairway of the Five Senses, with its walls, steps, fountains, statues and other ornamental elements, is the most emblematic Baroque work within the property.

Bom Jesus do Monte, one of the newest entries on the UNESCO world heritage list.
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OK.  Here we are at the base of the staircase.  Be patient, this will take awhile.  Just be glad I’m not ascending on my knees.

The entry gate to the staircase, flanked by a pair of whitewashed granite chapels.
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After we pass though the entry gate, there follows four long, zigzagged sections of staircase. All four are like this - eight sections of staircases with eight or nine stairs each, separated by flat sections with stone mosaic patterns. Very tranquil and conducive to contemplation, except for the whine of power tools from construction work on the next set of kiosks.
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So we’re past the zigzag lowest section of the ascent, and have reached the next tier of the cake. With about 300 steps behind us, we still have a few to go.
Heart 4 Comment 2
Ron SuchanekSpectacular!!
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Ron SuchanekExactly. Such a unique place.
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1 month ago
At this level, we’re high enough off the valley floor to enjoy a fine view back over Braga.
Heart 1 Comment 0
This next section is the strongest image I have of this place. This is amazing. It brings to mind the ascent of a mountaintop temple in Japan, and strangely enough also reminds me of hikers on the Navaho Trail in Bryce Canyon.
Heart 5 Comment 0
What a wonderful spot. Who wouldn’t want to have their glamour shot taken here? I see a high scoring Instagram post coming up.
Heart 3 Comment 0
Mesmerizing from every angle. Straight out of Escher.
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Each of these tiers has a fountain at its center, each a different figure different with water streaming from different orifices, each with its own excerpt from the scriptures etched above it.
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We’re at the next plateau here. It’s like a layer cake, and from below you can’t see the sections above.
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Finally at the top. Splendid, and obviously worth the climb. I’m so glad I didn’t take a taxi and just buzz up here. I do regret not taking a video though, because it’s just four o’clock and the sound of the bells and carillon ringing across the mountain are fantastic.
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At the top.
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The view back down, and over Braga. Magnificent.
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This grotto is an interesting feature. I’m sorry I didn’t get closer and try to learn more about it, but I’m starting to feel quite tired and sorry I’m three and a half miles from our room. Time to turn back.
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I did go inside the sanctuary, but only briefly because there was a huge wedding ceremony under way. There must have been three hundred attendees present. Rachael was here earlier in the day though and congributed her photos of the interior.
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Inside the sanctuary, Bom Jesus do Monte
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Inside the sanctuary, Bom Jesus do Monte
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If you come on your own, you should be aware that there is a funicular that lets you avoid the stairs. I considered it, but in the end decided to just walk down again.
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Another photo from Rachael, who took a much longer walk than I did - 12 miles today, nearly as much as Ken and Judy did yesterday. This is Santuario do Semairo, another nearby important monument.
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So, that’s the day.  After descending the long staircase I walked back to the room, hopefully keeping an eye out for a passing taxi that never appeared.  I was well done by the time I returned to our apartment, and so I sacked out for the remainder of the day.  I didn’t even have enough left to accompany Rachael for dinner, so she went out on her own and landed in a nearby sandwich shop.   We went to bed, again in separate bedrooms, hoping that I hadn’t jeopardized my health by the day’s excursion.

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Patrick O'HaraHang in there Scott. Hope you're on the mend. When you're well, you just might be able to keep up with Rachel;)
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2 months ago
Scott AndersonThanks for your concern, Patrick. I’m thinking I’m getting off lucky this time - for the second day in a row I’ve felt progressively better. I expect to be back on the bike again tomorrow. Unfortunately, I expect to still be slower than Rachael.
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2 months ago