Lello Bookstore in Porto: One of the most beautiful bookstores in the world

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Milica Sterjova
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One of the most amazing bookstores in the world is located in the Portuguese city of Porto and is called Lello Bookstore (also known as Livraria Lello & Irmão or Livraria Chardron). The name comes from the Lello brothers who opened the bookshop in January 1906.

Lello Bookstore was founded in 1869 by a Frenchman called Ernesto Chardron as the Livraria Internacional de Ernesto Chardron, which was bought by the Lello brothers in 1894.

José Lello, the eldest brother, wanted to be a bookseller and had a great love for literature. He opened his first bookstore and publishing house in 1881. Initially, his brother-in-law was his business partner, but after his brother-in-law’s death, José partnered up with his younger brother António Lello to form the company José Pinto de Sousa Lello & Irmão.

José and António Lello were important members of Porto’s intellectual circles and were deeply involved in the city’s public affairs. The opening of the bookstore was an important social event attended by many people from different spheres, including writers, politicians, and artists. As the owners changed, so did the bookstore’s name. In 1930 it was known simply as Livraria Lello but in was renamed to Lello & Irmão sometime around 1935.

Lello e Irmão Bookstore. Author: Maragato1976. CC BY 3.0

The exterior of the bookstore stands out from its surroundings. Designed by Francisco Xavier Esteves, a Portuguese engineer, the building is one of the most emblematic examples of the Neo-Gothic style in Porto. The facade has a large arch, a central entrance, and two windows on either side of the front door. The name sign is above the entrance.

There are three rectangular windows on the first floor. Two figures are painted on the wall on the first floor by Professor José Bielman. The figure on the left is a symbolic representation of Art and the one on the right of Science. Finishing the facade are squared plaits topped by three decorated pinnacles, with two pilasters on each side, topped by pinnacles of the same design.

The detail of the Lello bookstore pinnacles and stained-glass windows. Author: Chris. CC BY 2.0

The most remarkable part of the library is its interior. There is a set of bas-reliefs representing José and António Lello and busts of several famous Portuguese authors on the ground floor. These were sculpted by the Portuguese artist Romão Júnior.

A magnificent staircase provides access to the first floor. Over the staircase, there is a large 8 by 3.5 meter stained glass window which bears the Lello Brothers’ monogram and the bookstore’s motto in Latin “Decus in Labore”(Dignity in work). The ceiling design resembles carved wood but is actually painted plaster.

The interior of the store, showing skylight, staircase, and book shelves. Author: Alegna13. CC BY 3.0

 

The staircase. Author: WASD42. CC BY 2.0

 

The staircase as seen from the first floor. Author: Manuel Alende Maceira. CC BY 2.0

 

A view of the stained glass window. Author: Alegna13. CC BY 3.0

The famous British author J.K.Rowling lived in Porto for ten years working as an English teacher. She was a regular visitor of  Lello Bookstore and it is believed that the seeds of many of the ideas for the Harry Potter books came to life while she visited the small bookstore cafe. The stairs in Hogwarts School in her books were presumably inspired by Livraria Lello’s and the uniforms that Hogwarts students wear may have been inspired by the uniforms of students in Porto.

Interior decoration of the bookstore. Author: Alegna13. CC BY 3.0

 

Ground floor. Author:
Michał Huniewicz. CC BY 2.0

In 1994, Lello Bookstore was given the status of Property of Public Interest. In 1995, after decades of disrepair, the bookstore underwent a major renovation; an art gallery space was created and the service was updated and computerized. The bookstore receives over a million visitors a year. Unfortunately, an insignificant number of them buy any books so the owner established an entrance fee in July 2015, discounted if the visitor purchases a book. The introduction of the fee allowed the owner to finance some much-needed repairs. In 2016, the famous glass window consisting of 55 pieces was dismantled for the first time and cleaned and repaired.

Lello Bookstore is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world; The Guardian in 2008 and Lonely Planet in 2011 labeled it as the third most beautiful bookstore in the world, Time placed it among the 15 most interesting bookstores and CNN said it was the most beautiful in the world in 2014.