Architecture in Porto – Nicolau Nasoni
18 May, 2016, By Manuel A.
Although he was born in the outskirts of Florence, Italy, in 1691, Nicolau Nasoni is probably the most celebrated portuense architect. This city has an immense connection with architecture, from Gustave Eiffel and his metallic grand pieces, to the modern Siza Vieira and Souto Moura. But it was Nasoni who started it all, and the one who influenced Porto’s silhouette the most.
A talented Artist
Nasoni was a talented artist, having started as a painter and becoming an architect some years later on. His work is spread all around the north of Portugal and in Italy as well. He even developed some study work on jewellery design, sculpture and on gilded woodcarving. His first assignments were religious pieces, mainly decorative paintings on religious sites, but it was his building designs in Porto that catapulted Nasoni into an 18th century kind of stardom. After arriving in Porto he soon became the city’s favourite artist, and started receiving orders from everywhere, from rich and powerful people, from noblemen to merchants, and also from the clergy.
To be a portuense is to be a Nasoni disciple, a Nasoni scholar, someone who studied his work in great depth just by walking this city’s streets, avenues and parks. His works are one of the utmost features in most of this town’s habitants’ life stories, offering landmarks and a scenery for the memories to hold on to, as mine do.
I can still recall the first time I heard his name: I was just a young boy, and my grandfather had taken me to Foz (in Douro’s River mouth) for an ice cream, where the golden river and the foamy sea meet up. In one of the corners of the green Passeio Alegre Park I stumbled over two magnificently detailed pyramids. My grandfather told me they were the job of the same architect who had designed the Clérigos Tower – that huge Baroque “beacon” on the city centre –, and since that day Nasoni has had my sincere devotion.
Nasoni arrived in Porto in 1725, establishing himself immediately in the city, and even got married twice afterwards. During his “Portuguese life”, a period that lasted for almost 50 years, he completed dozens of works around town. From all his work I have to refer the Clérigos church and tower, the Cathedral front porch, the Misericórdia church, the Episcopal Palace of Porto and the São João Novo and Freixo palaces as these are his most famous ones. Besides these, he left a lot of other important, but smaller, artwork around town, from fountains to pyramids and other decorative pieces to remind us of his work everywhere throughout this city, as if he was afraid of one day being forgotten.
He died in 1773, and was buried in the Clérigos church (his masterpiece) as he had previously asked for.
Above everything else, I strongly believe that he has never been forgotten, and never will.