23 June 2018

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Porto, Portugal

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city, situated in the north of the country, and famous for Port wine. There is archaeological evidence of wine production in this region during the 3rd and 4th centuries. The earliest mention of ‘Port wine’ dates from 1675, in 1756 a royal charter defined the region for production of Port wine, making it the first wine region in the world to have a formal demarcation. The Douro winemaking region was declared a World Heritage Site By UNESCO in 2001.  I’m not actually here for the Port wine, I’m here for fireworks.

I’m in Porto to enjoy the São João Festival.  The history of São João dates back to the 14th century,  when it was originally a pagan festival, the saint is celebrated on the 24 June, but the celebrations start on the 23 June. The whole city becomes the venue for the festival,  and everyone in Porto is out on the streets celebrating.  Tables are laid with food; streets are dressed in bunting; pop up stalls sell cakes and sweet breads, or plastic hammers; bars are set up on the streets; barbeques are fired up, grilling sardines, (compulsory festival food); music is provided by street musicians, or sound systems from bars, and if either of these options isn’t within hearing distance, apartment windows are opened and the volume control is turned up to very loud; and, everyone has a plastic hammer.

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The hammer was introduced as a festival prop in the 20th century, their purpose is to (gently) hit people, usually on the head. They are brightly coloured, lightweight plastic, come in all sizes, and they squeak. The squeak from the thousands of hammers was the sound of the festival.

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One was never far from a grilled sardine, just follow the smoke from the coals, which filled some narrow side streets, and gave the city a rather hazy look. No street was too small to hold a party, and celebrations weren’t confined to land, boats were also party venues.

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Once the sun had set it was time to light coloured paper lanterns, hundreds were lit throughout the evening and gently floated up into the night sky. Promptly at midnight the fireworks started, the display lasted around 20 minuets, it was spectacular, and brought even more people out on to the streets.  After the fireworks, the party continued until the morning.

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