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June - Porto's São João

Fireworks
Photo:  Município do PortoCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

In 2014 the tradition of Porto’s São João is renewed and the city will be offering 6 weeks of constant and intense festivities, from May 24 till June 29! A celebration made of many celebrations, of more than 200 events of great variety reaching its peak on the night of June 23, considered by many the longest night of the year.

The Porto’s São João festivities offer the spirit, empathy and interaction with the city and its audiences, and a programme full of entertainment promoted by the City Council, this year led by music, as well as by tradition, street entertainment and sport.

Week after week, there will be a vast number of different options to experience Porto’s São João!

FIRST WEEKEND

First presentation of an initiative that will liven up some of the most emblematic places in Porto, with a set of concerts that will announce and begin the festivities.

SECOND WEEK

An eclectic and intense week of creativity and imagination, with a lot of music and other options also for families and the youngest ones, including the International Children´s Day (01/06), with the Children’s Festival in the Gardens of Palácio de Cristal, Serralves em Festa (31/05-01/06), also taking place in the city centre, and the FITEI – International Iberian Expression Theatre Festival (29/05-07/06).

THIRD WEEK

Optimus Primavera Sound (05-07/06), that brings to Porto names such as Caetano Veloso, St. Vincent, The National, Pixies, will mark the rhythm of the third week, altogether with the closing of the FITEI and the Running Race Holi Run, a mix of physical activity and entertainment.

FOURTH WEEK

São João Run and the joint festival of all urban markets, giving Porto’s Historical Centre an exceptionally coloured setting.

FIFTH WEEK

4 great concerts in the Avenida dos Aliados, in the city centre: 20/06 – Azeitonas; 21/06 – GNR; 22/06 – Ana Moura; 23/06 – Bob Sinclar and the usual São João concert in Casa da Música, by Banda Sinfónica Portuguesa (23/06).

The celebration reaches its best on the eve of June 23 – the Great São João night, with an unmissable and unforgettable fireworks show over the Douro river, next to the Luís I Bridge, but the week also offers “Ranchos em Arruada” (street parades), the Caricature Festival/Porto Cartoon, the São João Regatta and even a new edition of the joint inaugurations in the Miguel Bombarda art galleries!

SIXTH WEEK

To close the festivities special mention goes to “Rusgas de São João” (popular parades) and the run “Porto a Subir” (climbing up Porto). Revealing a bit of what will be the Summer programme, starting  on July 12, takes place in the AXA Building, in Avenida dos Aliados, the inauguration of the Photography Exhibition by Henri Cartier Bresson - Magnum, `L’Imaginaire d’Ápres Nature` .

Watch here the entertainment that took place in:

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The São João festivities in Porto already stand as a landmark for life in the city and are experienced by more and more tourists and visitors each year, taking part in the initiatives occurring all over the city. Throughout the month of June Porto offers a varied programme of São João celebrations. The highlight of the festivities is the Night of São João, from the 23 to the 24 June, when the city gets dressed up and the streets are filled with colour and scents, joy and high spirits.

T​ake a look at some views of Porto’s São João: 


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The Itinerary of the Sacred and the Secular illuminates the tradition, retelling the story of this great feast, and the São João Programme, carefully prepared and revamped each year, embraces all those activities that make June such a special month.Access here the brochure:

In Churches and Chapels, and particularly at this time, visitors can tour the altars dedicated to the saint and admire the artistic representations conjured up by renowned national and international artists.

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In the streets, the ‘cascatas’ (cascades), unique in Portugal, call the attention of passers-by to a tradition that involves the representation, in miniature, of scenes from around the city and customs from times gone by. They include houses, paths traced out in sand and moss, clay figurines, painted in lively colours, of people going about their daily business, working at their professions, many of which have now disappeared, and animals that, these days, are rarely seen inside the city. The most famous of these is the cascata das Fontaínhas.

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The festival programme has space for competitive activities too, such as the now traditional regatta of ‘rabelo’ (port wine) boats which runs over a 1.5 km course from Foz do Douro to the Luís I Bridge. There are also activities along the riverside and more competition in the form of the São João race and the contests for best cascata, shop window, ‘rusga’ (parade) and popular poetry celebrating São João.

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The night of the 23 June is the most jubilant of the year. Crowds of people come out onto the streets to celebrate this patron saint of amours. In the ‘Baixa’ area the streets ring out with the cries of the sellers of the traditional basil plants, carnations, lemon verbena, “leeks” and the modern hammers(*) that are used to dole out friendly whacks on the head to passers-by and which spread like wildfire throughout the city from early on in the day, acting as harbingers of the fun that is coming later on. The São João bonfires are set alight in the streets, by groups of neighbours and friends who prove their bravery by jumping right over the top of them. At midnight on the 23 June, there are fireworks, or São João’s fire, on the river. The banks of the Douro fill up with thousands of spectators who have come to watch the biggest show of the year, bursting with light, colour and emotion. The traditional São João balloons, made out of paper and brightly coloured, are carefully launched into the sky, providing an unparalleled spectacle of hundreds of ascending points of light.

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On the Feast night or on the day of São João, people eat ‘caldo verde’ soup with cornbread, mutton, lamb or grilled sardines, pepper salad and, for dessert, egg and milk custard or São João cake, deservedly washed down by a delicious Port Wine.

sjoao2012_7.JPGThe night of São João comes to a close at Foz do Douro, with people rowing out towards the sea until the dawn breaks.

Come and have fun with us and don’t go back without a souvenir. Porto awaits you!

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(*) The history of the São João play hammers

The São João play hammer was invented in 1963 by Manuel António Boaventura, a business man from the plastic industry in Porto, as a toy. That same year, university students asked him to offer them his “noisy” play hammers for the students parade “Queima das Fitas”, and it was a success, with every student friendly hitting all others with his hammer. The shops owners in Porto immediately decided to sell these play hammers for the São João celebrations. Although that year the stock was already very limited, the next year play hammers were sold by the dozens for São João and also offered by Mr. Boaventura to children in Porto. From that date forward, and for about 5 or 6 years, the play hammer became part of the São João celebrations. Then a complaint was made by the Porto City Council’s managing board, stating that hammers were not part of the tradition. Mr. Boaventura was forbidden to sell hammers for São João and everyone holding a play hammer during São João was also to be fined for it. Fortunately the people in Porto wouldn’t cope with this decision and kept playing with the plastic hammers during the festival. In 1973 Mr. Boaventura appealed and won the process in the Supreme Court and kept on being allowed to produce the play hammers that, bay then, were genuinely part of the tradition as they are now, in spite of the multiple changes they suffered over the years.

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Published 03-04-2014