Looks can be deceiving. It may look run down and messy, but the definition that suits it best is mysterious. It is a melting pot of urban experiences, and that’s what you are in for walking around it.
Campanhã - thought of by many as the emerging area in Porto - still lives off the coming and going of trains, connecting the city to others in the country. Its station, an old bourgeois estate dating back to the era of noble, traditional families in the city, is the epicentre of the district, and the air you breathe here is of vintage quality, the type that takes you back in time, to the days when the city was in the make.
Once highly industrialized, its vast area is still inhabited by people who have settled down to live here a long, long time ago. Once a local, you don’t go anywhere, this is where you belong – that’s why here we feel we are tapping into the depths of Porto’s history, and their locals mirror this feeling exactly.
However, the evolution the area has been undergoing and that began sometime in the fifties has become more and more evident, and the rise in number of young people settling down to live here is one of the biggest changes going on.
They are pumping the streets with a new vibe, a more underground, almost brazen one, an attitude that does not care for conventions. Graphic arts Oficina Arara , Fanzines do Panda Gordo and the made over old warehouses that are now Espaço Mira, are other examples of all that’s new and taking the streets. They are all both making way and a beacon for newcomers.
Further ahead, in Rua do Heroísmo, the scent is that of an indie type thing. Its first materialization is the old Stop Shopping Centre, deserted by local traders and taken by storm by the community of local musicians - shops have been converted into production studios and rehearsal rooms. Big names in the industry, such as Manuel Cruz or Slimmy, first started here. Despite at risk, music still makes its way along its run down halls.
Artsy is another way in which we can offhandedly label the São Lázaro area. The omnipresence of art students attending the Belas Artes faculty and other art schools suggests that we should.
All things alternative meet what is most traditional about Porto.
Art related businesses neighbour traditional eateries, there are theatres next door to local shops and cool fashion shops open right next to the local, vintage flower shops.
What is felt but not seen, however, are all the creative minds at work. Behind or above nearly every shop there are artists, artisans and creative geniuses and their studios and shops. From the most rudimental and modest – take Casa Guedes’s greasy shank sandwich - to emerging, unusual projects – such as the many-sided Maus Hábitos - , extreme lifestyles one would not expect to play well, do. Point in case: Poveiros Square. Wandering through streets and alleyways is the best thing to do.
All of this is only made possible because the heavily inflated rent prices west from Aliados Avenue have not yet made their way here. In Rodrigues de Freitas Avenue and the streets around it, one can still do both art and business in an almost underground fashion, experimenting and finely tuning all that has been learnt – or not – in its schools.
Besides schools, many other long-lived ‘institutions’, the face of the district’s school of thought, are based here – the bar Passos Manuel, hair salon Anjos Urbanos or even Vandoma Market, the real thing and the ‘mother’ of all urban markets.
Rich and diversified, this is where we can find Porto’s High Street - Santa Catarina. Don’t get lost, but do not miss Zara’s first international shop, Parfois’s first shop or Eureka’s Flagship store (three storeys of to-die-for made in Portugal shoes). There’s all this and much more.