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  • Writer's pictureKatlyn Roberts

Go to Porto for the Best Existential Crisis of Your Life

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Legacy can be slippery...

Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal. Photo by Ivo Rainha on Unsplash

I had an existential crisis in Porto, Portugal and, I don’t want to blame specific people, but J.K. Rowling, Frida Kahlo, and Jesus Christ had a lot to do with it.

Let’s talk about legacy for a second.

Legacy is multi-layered. You can really think of it as any (or all) of the following:

  • How someone’s life and/or art and/or teachings live on and influence other people

  • How someone changes the course of history

  • Family legacy

  • Local legacy

  • Global legacy

  • The longevity of a legacy (how long someone is remembered)

  • Their living legacy, how it changes throughout their life, and how it changes when they’re gone

I gotta tell you, I try pretty hard not to think about my own legacy too much these days because the legacies of people who think too much about their legacies tend to be filled with tragedy and strife. Look at poor Alexander Hamilton, or at least Lin Manuel Miranda’s version of him, who “imagined death so much, it felt more like a memory”.

But I won’t pretend the concept isn’t constantly in the back of my mind when I travel the world and see great works of art and beautiful monuments. Sometimes I think, Wow, that dude built a whole palace for his dead wife. The fuck have I done? Some Harry Potter fanfiction? The occasional good deed here and there? A bunch of ghostwritten articles and youtube videos? My LinkedIn profile? …Oh no. …My social media history?? God, I keep meaning to go back and delete all those Facebook statuses from 2008…

Churches of Carmelitas and Carmo — Porto, Portugal. Photo by Katlyn Roberts

I should say that I loved Porto. It may be my favorite city in Europe (so far). The people are so laid-back and funny, the topography is very hilly which makes for the type of stunning views I’ve only seen before in San Francisco, and, hello, it’s a Potterhead’s dream.

J.K. Rowling taught English in Porto for about 3 years while she was outlining all 7 books and writing the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. She wrote on her website:

“In those first weeks in Portugal, I wrote what has become my favorite chapter in the Philosopher’s Stone, ‘The Mirror of Erised’ — and had hoped that, when I returned from Portugal I would have a finished book under my arm. In fact, I had something even better: my daughter, Jessica.”

It’s so clear, when you go to Porto, how this misty, well-worn (and therefore well-loved) city influenced her wizarding world.

  • Livraria Lello (the title image) is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal. It was Rowling’s inspiration for the Diagon Alley bookstore, Flourish and Blotts.

  • The Universidade de Coimbra has a dress code nearly identical to the Hogwarts robes, and their stunning library inspired Hermione’s favorite hang-out spot in the castle.

  • The lion statues on the Fonte Dos Leões inspired the mascot for Gryffindor House.

  • António de Oliveira Salazar was a notorious dictator who left his slithery mark all over Porto. He, of course, is the direct inspiration for the founder of Slytherin House.

It’s more than fascinating to walk right into the beginning stages of someone’s thought process, fully aware of what came of these little fragments of inspiration.

I was like a kid in a candy shop …or a canned fish shop, I guess.

Casa Oriental Canned Sardine Shop in Porto, Portugal. Photo by Katlyn Roberts

I wondered — when Rowling, pregnant and far from home, wrote that chapter about the Mirror of Erised (desire spelled backwards), did she imagine what she would have seen in the mirror? What would have been her greatest desire at the time? Would she have seen her finished book? Her healthy daughter? Both? Could she have possibly imagined her book becoming the cultural phenomenon it would one day become? Or would she have seen something else entirely?

But Porto is about more than Harry Potter. The Jesus fandom’s pretty big there too. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a church.


(To read the rest of this article, check it out where it was originally published in Initiate Abroad.)

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