São João’s night: Getting hammered in a partying Porto

Although the main reason for my recent trip to Porto was my Tascas project – a documentary photography project about traditional taverns in Portugal – I happened to plan things in order for me to be able to stay until after São João’s night.

São João is part of the so called Santos Populares (=Popular Saints) along with Santo Antonio and São Pedro. The Popular Saints are celebrated in June, more or less everywhere in the country, with festivals, fairs, cultural and folklore events, and parades.

The two biggest festivals are Santo Antonio in Lisbon and São João in Porto. Both cities have a month-long schedule filled with events, normally rolling from the beginning of June to the beginning of July. While Santo Antonio’s celebrations in Lisbon peak on the 12th of June with the Marchas Populares (=Popular Parade) where folklore groups from the various historical bairros (=neighbourhoods) take to Avenida da Liberdade for a show of music and dance, Porto reaches its highest point on the 23rd of June with the midnight fireworks show. Grilled sardines and pork meat are a common theme between the two feasts, but what sets São João apart is its plastic hammers (read the captions to the photos below). For further reading on the festival head to this São João quick guide written by my friends Ricardo and Roger from The City Tailors – a Porto tour company. Although I was told that the festival is relatively unknown out of Portugal, I still saw many international tourists partying that night, so I assume it’s getting more and more famous. Surely it’s great fun and you should try it next year!

Now, on to the photos…

A Sao Joao crib I saw at the Mercado do Bolhao. Pictured a figure of Sao Joao baptising Jesus.
A Sao Joao crib I saw at the Mercado do Bolhao. Pictured a figure of Sao Joao baptising Jesus.
As part of the celebrations for Sao Joao (the festival is one month long and normally runs all the month of June) many cultural events took place, including exhibitions and concerts. This is a folklore group preparing before their parade in the streets of downtown Porto.
As part of the celebrations for Sao Joao (the festival is one month long and normally runs all the month of June) many cultural events took place, including exhibitions and concerts. This is a folklore group preparing before their parade in the streets of downtown Porto.
On the night of the 23rd of June, Sao Joao's eve, the city becomes a big, smoking barbeque. The two main ingredients to grill are sardines and pork meat. In the picture two chefs from a restaurant in Passeio das Virtudes are sprinkling some seasoned condiment on a spitroast pork.
On the night of the 23rd of June, Sao Joao’s eve, the city becomes a big, smoking barbeque. The two main ingredients to grill are sardines and pork meat. In the picture two chefs from a restaurant in Passeio das Virtudes are sprinkling some seasoned condiment on a spitroast pork.
On Sao Joao's eve people from the historical neighbourhoods use to dine out with friends, neighbours and strangers. In the picture a lady is setting up a big dining table in front of her home in Rua das taipas.
On Sao Joao’s eve people from the historical neighbourhoods use to dine out with friends, neighbours and strangers. In the picture a lady is setting up a big dining table in front of her home in Rua das taipas.
A woman stands on her balcony on Sao Joao's eve, watching the neighbours preparing their grills.
A woman stands on her balcony on Sao Joao’s eve, watching the neighbours preparing their grills.
A bare chested man is seen in a lane off Rua da Vitoria, seemingly going in the direction of a street restaurant advertised as Joao Fadista.
A bare chested man is seen in a lane off Rua da Vitoria, seemingly going in the direction of a street restaurant advertised as Joao Fadista.
A woman in Rua da Vitoria is seen grilling sardines.
A woman in Rua da Vitoria is seen grilling sardines.
Two woman sell plastic hammers in the streets of Porto's historical centre. Traditionally people celebrating São João in Porto used to beat each other in the head with leeks, because leek was considered a symbol of fertility. It is believed that this custom has ancient origins tracing back to pre-Christian paganism. In the 70s leeks were replaced with plastic hammers, which have become an icon of the modern day festival.
Two women sell plastic hammers in the streets of Porto’s historical centre. Traditionally people celebrating São João in Porto used to beat each other in the head with leeks, because leek was considered a symbol of fertility. It is believed that this custom has ancient origins tracing back to pre-Christian paganism. In the 70s leeks were replaced with plastic hammers, which have become an icon of the modern day festival.
A view on Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite bank of the Douro river, from the top of Praça da Ribeira. The colored banners are part of the decoration for the Sao Joao festival.
A view on Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite bank of the Douro river, from the top of Praça da Ribeira. The colored banners are part of the decoration for the Sao Joao festival.
Two cheerful women at a street bar near Ribeira square, dance to a Brasilian tune.
Two cheerful women at a street bar near Ribeira square, dance to a Brasilian tune.
Children play with their plastic hammers on a balcony overlooking Ribeira square.
Children play with their plastic hammers on a balcony overlooking Ribeira square.
The crowds start to fill Ribeira square at sunset.
The crowds start to fill Ribeira square at sunset.
Sao Joao's celebration include a majestic fireworks show, which is traditionally held at midnight between the 23rd and the 24th of June. This year the show lasted 16 minutes and fireworks were shot from the Luis I bridge and from some platforms in the middle of the Douro river.
Sao Joao’s celebration include a majestic fireworks show, which is traditionally held at midnight between the 23rd and the 24th of June. This year the show lasted 16 minutes and fireworks were shot from the Luis I bridge and from some platforms in the middle of the Douro river.
As part of the tradition a group of people prepares to release a sky lantern on Sao Joao's eve. Porto, Portugal, 2014
As part of the tradition a group of people prepares to release a sky lantern on Sao Joao’s eve. Porto, Portugal, 2014
A view on Porto from Gaia, on the opposite bank of the river. Sky lanterns dot the sky after the fireworks show. At this stage people usually go dancing till the first light of the morning. The most adventurous ones proceed to the beach to see the sunrise, while bathing in the freezing water of the Atlantic Ocean.
A view on Porto from Gaia, on the opposite bank of the river. Sky lanterns dot the sky after the fireworks show. At this stage people usually go dancing till the first light of the morning. The most adventurous ones proceed to the beach to see the sunrise, while bathing in the freezing water of the Atlantic Ocean.

 

  • Porto is simply breathing with colours! Love it 🙂

    • I literally fell in love with Porto. So much so, that I want to go back soon 😀

  • I love Porto, and you really capture the essence of the town. Wow. Great photos.

  • I was in Porto a couple of weeks ago. Loved the city, in fact I loved Portugal full stop. The talk was of the festival. I suppose the essence of travel is timing. Great photos, took me back there.

    • thanks Steve! Try and make it to the festival next year, it’s great fun! 😀