Harry Potter’s Porto Connections

It’s obviously a celebrated fact in Porto, but JK Rowling moved to Porto in 1991 to work as an English teacher in a language institute after her first marriage ended.

As she says, “Nine months after my mother’s death, desperate to get away for a while, I left for Portugal. I took with me the still-growing manuscript of Harry Potter, hopeful that my new working hours (I taught in the afternoon and evening) would lend themselves to pressing on with my novel.”

She was writing what became Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone at the time, and used the mornings to sit in cafes around town and write.Some ideas in the final version of the book, and even the some aspects in the movie owe their conception to everyday life in Porto and Portugal.

Caped Students
Students at the University of Porto wear a black cape (even in summer!) as part of their clothing to lectures. You see them walking along footpaths loaded down with books, but they also can be seen writing notes in bars and cafes around town.
(We also had capes as part of our uniform at boarding school, however it was teamed with horrible “church shoes” and was generally only worn in the depths of winter in a non-heated buildings, so ours were probably not as romantic or mysterious looking.)

Livraria Lello Bookstore:

The narrow facade of this bookshop is Neo-Gothic design. The interior however is astonishing, with its amazing spiral Art Nouveau staircase that is circular but also folds back on itself. It’s easy to see how this small building stuffed with books influenced the newly forming Harry Potter world.

If you want to be able to actually see the interior of this bookshop you had better be waiting outside when it opens at 10am. It’s a major tourist drawcard (Lonely Planet has rated it the 3rd best bookshop in the world) so if you leave it later than 10:30 to visit, you will not be able to move inside for the throng of people and their cameras (which they are not able to use as there is a strict no-photo rule).


Salazar Slytherin:
the name Salazar – original founder of Hogwart’s Slytherin house is thought to be a reference to António de Oliveira Salazar – a fascist dictator who ruled Portugal for 38 years

Porto of full of small streets and crooked alleyways. It’s the second largest city in Portugal, but wandering around in the alleyways and side streets there are times when you are the only person around. Especially on Sunday when all the shops are closed and everything pretty much grinds to a halt.


I got back to my apartment that night after a day spent wandering around, and what should be showing on television, but Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry’s Porto influences have now made me view the Harry Potter universe in a new light.

17 thoughts on “Harry Potter’s Porto Connections

  1. Actually we do not wear the uniform, wich we call “traje” to classes, just on certain ocasions when tradition or a special event of some kind requires it’s use.
    And yes, it’s really painfull to wear it on hot days, but a blessing on the chilly ones.
    Cheers from Portugal!

    1. @Luis : this is not entirely true. The “traje” isn’t meant to be used “only” in special events, but rather the whole time (for some notion of “whole time”). It is commonly accepted that it isn’t the most comfortable clothing to wear, specially in summer, and that no one is forced to acquire one, or to share the same importance to a clothing that is a symbol of the “student”, and those are, in my opinion, the reasons why students don’t wear it all time. But associating the usage of the “traje” to “tradicional special events” is clearly a misinterpretation of its purpose, nor does it have an exclusive linkage to the “praxe” (freshmen initiation rituals). I short, “praxe” requires “traje”, but “traje” does not require “praxe”.
      Also, it is worth mentioning to foreign people that every city in Portugal lives such academic experiences in different ways, with different intensities, and use the “traje” in different ocasions. It is not uncommon where I studied to see many students attending classes wearing it, without any special ocasion or event (myself included).

      In short:
      Well, as you are portuguese as me, you are surely aware that there are many debates regarding the usage of the “traje”, participating in the “praxe”, and of all the controversy around such topics; about whether “traje” is exclusively for “praxe” participants or not.
      But one thing is certain. The right to use the “traje” applies to every student, and the “traje” would exist even if “praxe” didn’t. It would even exist if “Queima das Fitas” (or equivalent) didn’t. Even if no “special tradicional events” didn’t exist, the “traje” would.

      Now that I wrote all this, I noticed I mentioned “praxe” a bit too much. I do not intend to raise another topic or debate about it, as it is always endless. But that’s what came to my mind when you mentioned “tradition” and “special event” (besides “Queima das Fitas” obviously). I really wanted to clarify that wearing the “traje” is beyond all that.
      @ To everyone else:

      The “traje” is indeed not related to any traditional event. It was created a long time ago, and it was created to bring to classes so that there was impossible to distinguish a poor student from a wealthy one. For that reason, rings, necklaces, etc. are forbidden while wearing the it.

      1. Hi Miguel,

        it seems that you are confusing the hazing of freshmen – which used to be called “investidas” – to “Praxe”, which actually means, from its latin root, “practice”, i.e, all academic traditions (traje, serenata, cortejo, latada, queima das fitas, etc.) that go way beyond hazing freshmen for a few months and, truth be told, it would actually be better of without it. But this is very common.

        The general public (and, alas, many students as well) began to fall for the synecdoche of confusing “Praxe” (i.e. lato sensu academic tradition) to “investidas” or “praxes” (strictu sensu), which in my opinion has hurt public opinion of academic traditions.

        It is also a common mistake to consider that the “traje académico” was meant to level social differences. It wasn’t, that’s just a recent romantic interpretation.

        Another common mistake is to think that only “praxistas” get to where the traje, or that its usage is forbidden to freshmen. This has no grounding whatsoever and any good “academista” should now better. I redirect you to a blog from someone who knows much more than I do on the topic, since he has actually done the research. All posts regarding “Praxe Académica” are on the left pane of the blog: http://notasemelodias.blogspot.pt/

        Other than that, I agree with you that we should wear traje whenever and wherever we want. I’ve been wearing mine for more than 15 years now (keep calm, I have two pre-bologna “licenciaturas”, a doctorate degree and play in two Tunas Académicas, that’s why).

    2. Not true. I wore “traje académico” countless times in classes an not necessarily just for “special events”. That is what “special people” do. True “academistas” know better. In science labs it can get a bit uncomfortable, but by just taking the jacket and cape off and putting on a lab coat, it’s almost business as usual.

      1. Unfortunately the “traje” (originally a uniform intended to abolish class differences among students) in recent years has become associated with “praxe”, which are freshers’ initiation rituals with a military feel to them and that were kept alive by the fascist dictatorship. Having been banned after the revolution, they were revived in the 80s and 90s (when there was a great increase of university students) by people with no idea of their history and no appreciation of their underlying authoritarian, anti-academic ideology.

  2. there’s one more thing about that… Aset Ka is an order that has an headquarter in Porto. JK adapted the dark mark from this order. The mark is different, but the inspiration came from there.

  3. There is more about the history of the “traje” that it meets the eye if you wont to know a litle more email me. And i hope you can read Latin 🙂

    1. It has no relation. There are rumours about it being derived from vol de mort, which in french means Flight of Death, coming from an evil wizard named Voldemortist or even Allan Poe’s character Mr. Valdemar… Even with all of these hypothesis, J.K. Rowling said she made the name up 🙂

  4. It is a big lie, she did not bring any manuscript, the first who wrote about that idea was a portuguese teacher colleague of hers, from whom He stole the idea

    1. That seems a bigger lie. There usually are only native speakers in those kind of foreign-language schools.

  5. I never liked Harry Potter, so I havent seen or read the movies and books.(but I´m not against it-RESPECT)
    I´m from Porto for more that 30 yrs and love my city…
    >>>How ever can someone tell me if she mentions/incorporate (in any H.P.) part of the story of the portuguese husband (television journalist Jorge Arantes) that beat the crap out of her and threw her out on the street in at 5 in the morning that made her run away to Scotland, in any of her stories?
    Because I would find that ironic and pretty cool if she hearned all the fame and money because of that lowlife.

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