Harry Potter: Born in Manchester, Raised in Portugal
Today is Portugal Day. No, Portugal isn’t a province of Spain; it’s actually the westernmost European country right next to it, and even though it’s half the size of Florida, it’s kept the same borders since the 12th century, making it one of the oldest nations in Europe.
What does that have to do with Harry Potter, you ask? Quite a lot, as a matter of fact.
A Portuguese Potterhead such as myself will always make sure to remind everyone else how J.K. Rowling lived in Porto, Portugal, while she was writing the first Harry Potter book.
Imagine Portuguese Potterheads’ excitement when we discovered that Jo knows how to say (at least) the word “something” in Portuguese. It was a big deal.
Nine months after her mother’s death, a younger Jo Rowling eyed an advertisement in search of an English teacher and moved to Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city, in 1991. She gave classes at the end of every day and early evening, which meant that the remaining hours were spent writing Potter. Even her favorite chapter in Sorcerer’s Stone, “The Mirror of Erised,” was written during her first few weeks in Portugal.
Sadly, it was the beginning of the darkest period of her life. She married a Portuguese journalist in 1992, and after her eldest daughter Jessica was born, the marriage ended quite poorly. She moved to Edinburgh to be close to her sister with three chapters of what would become Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in her suitcase.
After moving back to the UK, Jo saw herself as a failure. A failed marriage, a jobless single mother diagnosed with clinical depression, “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless”, as she has once described. It was a time, however, where she could solely focus on her writing and recall the usual spots she used to visit in the two years she lived in old Porto.
Now, I’ve been to the city once, and I immediately felt the “Hogwartsian” feel of it and can totally understand the spots and people that inspired the author. Here are seven things that most definitely stuck in Jo Rowling’s head when writing Potter:
1. Café Majestic
Before Jo spent hours writing and sitting down on the now-$400,000 chair at the Elephant House in Edinburgh, she sat on one of the chairs at the Art Nouveau establishment, Café Majestic.
Just look at it. It’s jaw-dropping and exactly where you’d imagine Jo to be writing while sipping some tea out of a lipstick-smudged teacup with scribbled sheets of paper all over her table.
2. Lello Bookshop
Before there was Flourish & Blotts, there was — and is — the Lello Bookshop, one of the most beautiful bookshops in the entire world. This was one of Jo’s favorite spots, and it’s easy to understand why as soon as you step in and feel the warmth and coziness of the place.
The winding staircase slithers its way to the second floor along the piled books and wooden shelves, and even though the staircases in Hogwarts are straight and like to move, it’s hard not to be left with the feeling that you’re about to climb the Grand Staircase of the Castle or even the entrance to Dumbledore’s office.
This year, in February, the owners even hosted the first-ever Harry Potter Night inside Lello. Just magical!
3. The Douro River
Just between Porto and Gaia, there flows the Douro River, or what to me kind of looks like the Black Lake.
Change the scenery a bit, add the Hogwarts Castle at the top, transform the D. Luís I bridge into the Triwizard Tournament’s platforms, push some boats filled with first years, and you’ve got the Black Lake, right?
4. Porto’s Sé Cathedral
Although many scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed in the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral in England, Porto’s own Sé Cathedral seems to have given Jo some inspiration when thinking about what Hogwarts would look like.
Of course, it’s not as grand as the English Gothic churches, but you can’t help but feel that Professor Snape is about to slither his way behind you asking if you’re… up to something.
5. The Ribeira
Walking along the riverside and peeking toward the narrow streets of the Ribeira, you get a sense that you’re about to walk through Diagon Alley when you see the buildings opposite each other almost touching.
Simply add a bunch of owls by the sidewalk and brooms in a store window, and you’re ready to unpocket a quill and a bottle of ink to cross out your Hogwarts supply list.
6. António de Oliveira Salazar
Yes, as in Salazar Slytherin. The name was inspired by the former Portuguese Prime Minister, António de Oliveira Salazar, who founded and led the Estado Novo (“New State”), an authoritarian government that ruled Portugal for 48 years until 1974.
While Salazar Slytherin believed in pure-blood supremacy, the Portuguese Salazar used heavy-handed censorship and a ruthless secret police to stamp out the opposition and anyone who stood in the way of the government.
It’s highly likely that the ever-curious Jo devoured Portugal’s history books and crossed paths with Salazar, inspiring her to give the power-hungry Slytherin his first name.
7. The University traje
And finally, the University traje (“suit”). What once was a tradition in the city of Coimbra to maintain equality among students, now has spread all over the country and is still used by many. The traje is comprised of different black garments (except for the white shirt) and a long black cape that covers the students’ backs and almost reaches the floor.
Someone who isn’t used to seeing them wandering the streets every day immediately associates the traje with the Hogwarts robes. In fact, whenever a student is wearing one and encounters a foreigner, they’re bound to hear the words “Harry Potter” directed toward them.
If this isn’t proof that Harry has a little Portuguese blood inside him, I don’t know what is. At least as a born-and-raised Lisboner, I will always feel that he is one of us.
Happy Portugal Day to all you Portuguese Potterheads! Have you ever been to Porto to check out these Potter places? Let us know in the comments!