Harry Potter is known to have traveled quite widely after quitting Hogwarts mid-way, hiking and pitching tents in the middle of forests, in search of Horcruxes. So when exactly did he come by Porto, of all places?
What if I told you, Harry shares his parentage with London and the lazy little town of Porto in Portugal? What if JK Rowling’s inspiration to write a billion dollar storyline came from the time she had spent back in Portugal, where she was an English teacher?
After reading about the life of JK Rowling, I decided to trace back her inspiration by going across the city of Porto, known the world over for its sweetened port wine. Porto lies on the coast of Northern Portugal, offering its tourists gastronomic delights and great views to the river Douro.
JK Rowling moved to Porto after a troubled past with a divorce and the death of her mother. She had already started on her script for the first book in the Harry Potter series, but it was in Porto that she truly found her touch. Treading across Porto, you find numerous locations and the entrancing history behind the origin of the Harry Potter universe.
So without much ado, let us move on to our list of fascinating anecdotes, places, and people, who were caricatured in the series.
The Livraria Lello Book House
This old book house in the center of Porto looks straight out of the Flourish and Blotts store in Diagon Alley, where Hogwarts students buy their magic books. Rowling spent a significant part of her time in Porto inside this book house, writing away on the first floor of this store. The Lello is a visual treat, with its glazed windows, circling staircases and colorful upholstery. The feel of the place is truly magical, and for a few bucks, you could take a piece of it with you (in the form of a book).
Psst…you could ask the cashier to give you the signature Lello stamp on your book when you check out. They would be more than happy to oblige.
The Fonte dos Leões
Adjacent to the Lello is the Fonte dos Leões, a fountain with winged lions sprouting water on all sides of its carved center. These winged lions are a version of a mythological creature called the ‘Griffin’. Rings a bell, doesn’t it?
When Rowling was typing away at the Lello, she had the habit of peering out from its first-floor window, and flush across the building was this picturesque fountain. The local legend in Porto tells us that she sourced the name Gryffindor from this place. Attesting to that is the lion on the coat of arms of the house.
The Majestic Cafe
When you go down the busy streets of Porto, you find a cozy little coffee house called the Majestic Cafe. It is probably one of the major tourist attractions in the region, courtesy of the fact that Rowling wrote the first chapter of Harry Potter in the cafe.
Outside the restaurant, you would find a lot of tables with umbrella rooftops decking them. When you approach the waiter and ask him where Rowling used to sit down and write, he would beckon at the nearest available table and solemnly tells you that was it. But then, you’d slowly realize that he does that with every eager tourist, at every available table. It is amusing to see the idea of Harry Potter has been selling them coffees for more than a decade!
The António de Oliveira Salazar’s Bust
Salazar was Portugal’s dictator from 1932 to 1968, and was responsible for governance that prided censorship, gave ubiquitous powers to his secret police and created an environment of conservatism and fear amongst the people. It was no wonder that the name of Salazar Slytherin in the book was contrived to be a vicious and cunning man whose name evoked a sense of hatred in the minds of the readers.
The Hogwarts Black Robes
Ever wondered where Rowling got the idea for the long flowing black robes that the students at Hogwarts wear to classes? Right here, in Porto. The Portuguese university students wear exactly similar robes during important ceremonies, like an investiture or a graduation event. Rowling is said to have been inspired by this rather medieval piece of attire and adorned her characters with them.
All this aside, Porto has a lot of variety and culture that transcends its halo of Harry Potter. Sitting down on a fine summer evening from across the Luis Bridge, with a spread of Portuguese cuisine and a Porto wine induced dessert for afters, would make it an experience of a lifetime. As the sun floats down the hill, you would feel a sense of calmness erupt, only to be disturbed by the gentle ripples spreading across the Duoro river as boats slink past without a sound. Porto is an underrated treasure and should be on your list of places to visit when you are traveling around in the Iberian Peninsula.
Do you want me to cover a place you like? Do pitch it in the comments below!