left oporto vs right oporto

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Year 2009. “The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” Aristotle

It’s nice, right? I think so too. But then please take two minutes to read the following.

To the left of the picture is how I knew it. To the right is how today’s massive tourism sees it.

Oporto city’s old town, known as Ribeira, is today a World Heritage protected area by Unesco. This cluster of Oporto’s City has been during the past few years under a massive architectural renovation. The foundations are rocky cast and the houses themselves are stone built which explains its resistance and resilience to decades of neglected disregard mainly during Portugal’s dictatorship, a period that alone lasted 48 years. Today this area is a city’s legacy from its rich past in business and trade, not to mention the bravery and courage of its people during Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal (read about boat’s floating bridge catastrophe). However, this area, also called Barredo, has not always been a place of glory. During it’s neglected period it was a place of shame, a no go place, a shantytown, a ghetto, an embarrassment for the City Hall polished marbles building, a place where humans, cats, dogs, rodents and parasites, garbage and defecation, misery and indignity were nourishing together. While studying in the city, between my 12th and my 17th year of age, I was a member of the St.Vicente of Paulos’ Charity Organisation and I was in charge of looking after two extremely poor families living in this area and for bringing them comfort, compassion and groceries. My duty was also to make sure they lived in a “decent” (if it could be called decent by today’s standards), clean and organised way, inside the 10 square meters space where 4 human beings “lived”.

The first boys of the Casa do Gaiato de Paço de Sousa, came from this area. They were abandoned and living alone in the small alleys, arcades and streets, where Padre Americo scouted and started with them the most dignified place Portugal has ever known for abandoned or orphan boys; The Casa do Gaiato. As an irony of destiny, after the renovation, Ribeira area became a place of massive tourism, nightlife enjoyment and a place of fame and vanity unaffordable to ordinary people, much less to those living there before. We should of course enjoy the present and look into the future with bright optimism, but the best way to do so is not to forget the past.