Writing about Aveiro is not the easiest task for me, because writing about this city is telling a story about home. It was the very first Portuguese city I saw properly, the very first I lived in, and the very first I fell in love with.
And you know what they say: your first love never dies.
The history of Aveiro started in the time of the Roman Empire and lasted through the ages. Salt extraction defined how the city and the surrounding area looks today. While being just six kilometres from the Atlantic Ocean, the landscape of Aveiro is predominated by salinas and canals that allow easy water transport of salt and moliços, plants that were used in agriculture.
I walked down Avenida Dr. Lourenço Peixinho every day. It starts at the train station, where the rich azulejo decoration is one of the most stunning in the whole region. Maybe I can’t compare it to São Bento in Porto, which is filled with white-blue tiles from the bottom to the top, but Aveiro has the charm of a small city, with delicate beauty at its heart, and you can see it clearly in the railway station.
The smell of coffee and freshly baked bread fill the street that leads you straight to the heart of the city. Opening to the view of the canals that now create a unique landscape of the city but in the past played a crucial role.
Getting around by boat
Aveiro is sometimes called the Venice of Portugal. A very unfortunate name given to this city during the regime of Salazar, to prove that Portugal is a special country that really has it all. Even though you can see some resemblance to the former Italian capital of trade, Aveiro is rather a little Portuguese city that has a lot more to offer simply by being itself.
Observing the moliceiros, the local boats, from the bank of the Ria can create the same excitement as sailing in one. A beautifully painted vessel glides through the canal, marking the trail on the water which, after a while, disappears. Yet another boat passes by, then another one, and then another…
Aveiro’s ‘gondolas’ are much bigger than the Italian version, and it’s not surprising considering that they were used to transport goods, not people. At 15 metres long and 2.5 metres wide, they were a solution for transporting that vital plant life.
The colours of the boats can brighten up even the gloomiest day. With intense blues, reds, greens, and yellows, they stand out from the dark green waters of the canals. They’re also a great illustration of the Portuguese lifestyle, filled with religion, but also fun.
While on the bow of a boat the saints or the Holy Mary were represented to lead the workers safely home; on the back, humoristic, and very often erotic artworks were shown.
Today, however, you won’t see green algae piling on the boats, pressing them heavily into the water. Instead they are filled with tourists who observe Aveiro from the level of the canal with its splendid beauty peeking out from everywhere.
Places of distinction
Whether from the boats or simply from the land, one of many of the beautiful things that forms the very personality Aveiro is the architecture. Buildings with azulejos – whether public, sacral, or private – recall times when Aveiro was a trade centre. The Portuguese tradition of incorporating tilework – mainly blue and white – blossoms in this city. Panels on the train station show the history of transport. The glaze shines from the walls, floors, and even ceilings of churches and chapels.
On Praça do Marquês de Pombal, the Casa de Santa Zita building proudly decorates the square which nowadays is dominated by the modernist architecture of the courthouse and the police station.
The contemporary mural on Rua do Clube dos Galitos shows traditions that kept Aveiro alive for ages. Facades of the little, narrow buildings hidden in the streets near the canal on the western side of Aveiro, wait to be discovered by people who have accidentally strayed from the beaten path.