Avenida dos Aliados is generally regarded as Porto's city centre and is, as such, the most grandiose avenue. Flanked by ornate buildings in a range of architectural styles, from neoclassical to French Beaux-arts, this avenue was built to impress. As such it is home to some of the city's most prestigious hotels along with a number of banks. When I lived in Porto I was never quite convinced I was in an actual city until I wandered down to Aliados.
The name of this central boulevard translates as "Avenue of the Allies" and this refers to the treaty between Portugal and the United Kingdom in the 14th century. Still in place, the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty is the oldest alliance in the world which is still in force. Avenida dos Aliados is not Porto's only nod to a special relationship with the British. The Peninsula War Monument in Boavista features the British lion dominating Napoleon's eagle as the French were driven out.
This wide, somewhat short avenue was not always the grand statement it is today. In fact it has only existed in its current form since 1916 when the old streets and alleyways of the "lavadouros" were demolished.
Standing at the head of the Avenida is the stately town hall (Câmara Municipal), capped with a central clock tower which rises 70 metres (220 feet) above the street below. With 180 steps the tower gives nearby Clerigos a run for its money. In front of the town hall is the Praça do General Humberto Delgado, a wide, stone tree-lined square flanked by busy roads to either side. This is the location of the Aliados metro stop and is also home to the statue of celebrated Portuguese poet, Almeida Garrett.
As you travel down the gently sloping Avenida it is hard not to be impressed by the flamboyant architectural flourishes that leap from the façades and roofs of virtually every building. Built mostly of pale granite there are domes, spires, statues and skylights a plenty. Some of the more notable buildings include those of the old "Banco do Minho" and "Caixa Geral de Depósitos" banks, the "O Comércio do Porto" newspaper offices and probably the most impressive of all, the "A Nacional" insurance company building. This was designed by Marques da Silva and is located on the left side at the bottom of the avenue.
Perhaps Avenida dos Aliados' greatest claim to fame though falls upon the old Café Imperial. Now a branch of the ubiquitous McDonald's fast food chain it has, all the same, been cited as the "most beautiful in the world". Whilst I cannot claim to have visited many McDonald's around the world there may be some truth in this; the exterior has been left much as it was, complete with the imperial eagle, whilst the interior has also been left virtually unspoilt. You can appreciate the art deco stained glass and period chandeliers as you munch your way through a Big Mac and fries.
At the foot of the Porto's grandest street is the busy square of Praça da Liberdade. This end is dominated by the imposing Neoclassical façade of an 18th century convent, the Palácio das Cardosas. The oldest building in the square the convent is now the upmarket InterContinental Porto hotel.