Letras de Braga: a walk through urban typography

The present essay intends to be a guide and a record of the tour taken on April 18th, by Letras de Braga/Velha-a-Branca, as part of the CECS Visual Culture Seminar, which is organized by Passeio. The tour, which took place in Braga’s city center, started in Arcada, going through Rua do Janes, Rua de S. João, Dr. Justino Cruz, and returning to the starting point through Rua dos Capelistas.

Let’s inscribe ourselves in the city’s everyday life, interacting with its temporal layers. We are a sensitive body, in a specific space, impregnated with events with accumulated chronologies. Walking, we train our gaze on urban types a thousand times distractedly observed in Braga’s commercial stores, which, by force of our attention, reveal themselves differently. The fact that we are not an individual body, but a group, which by moving influences the space, gives us a vision conditioned to the context of what happens at this very moment. For all this, we approach the city as a dynamic space of juxtaposed times, constantly interpreted by the present.

With Rosenberg (2012) we classify this journey through the urban typography of the city of Braga, guided by Nuno Dias (Letras de Braga) and Luís Tarroso Gomes (Velha-a-Branca). We understand, like the author, that the walk we practice in the city is not defined only as an exercise of contemplation (walk as a journey), nor as an exercise of transcendence (walk as a transforming encounter). Rather, we try to make this city walk a form of “negotiation of urban space through the ordinary rhythms of everyday life” (2012, p. 137). We arrived with the sun still high and the Arcada teeming with people and ended with the twilight lending dreamlike tones to the signs that we provoked with our gaze, asking them to enlighten us about their lives, in a city already deserted and calm.

And what do these signs tell us, so many of them still recording contemporary life, along with other fossilized vestiges of what once was? The nostalgic look is almost an irresistible tendency of the city’s memory places. Discovering these places and bringing them into the present always requires an effort of imagination that will be nothing more than the weaving of the commonplace that creates identities. The topologies of memory that Crang and Travlou (1998) allude to are built, precisely, by this juxtaposition of times in the same space, which feeds collective identity. Therefore, Benetton’s global symbol accumulates (in cognitive maps) with that of Armazéns Pinheiros. Of advertising technique and design imminently functional, practical, and every day, the urban typography shapes the body of the city. The neon of the Café Vianna is not just pink neon, it is a symbolic place, which constantly redefines us as a social group.

Let’s head, eagerly but unhurriedly, for the encounter with the city.



Braga is not only beautiful esplanades and magnificent churches. From the iconic facade of A Brasileira, the imposing letters on the facade of Theatro Circo and the degraded letters of S. Geraldo, to disappearing signs that still cohabit in our memories, these structures are part of the graphic and visual heritage of the city of Braga. They tell the story of the city. They identify and differentiate those who live on it!

However, graphical heritage is seriously threatened by gentrification and the uncritical renovation of our cities. More and more, with the appearance of franchises, shopping malls, online stores, and various policies of purported purging of old buildings, these signs and structures that defined the image – and even the skyline – of our cities and, consecutively, our urban experiences, are being decimated. It is imperative to document Braga’s visual landscape, to preserve as many historic signs as possible, and to fight against the trend of homogenizing the commercial and urban image that devalues and makes disappear the historic local commerce and with it the memory and identity of each street. The personality and urban landscape of cities are impoverished and the streets are, in many cases, gutted, with nothing to recall the forms and uses that once gave them life.

These graphic and typographic elements, after leaving the façade of buildings and stores, lose their original advertising function, but become objects of art and gain the status of Graphic Heritage of cities. They should, therefore, be cherished, preserved, safeguarded, and in some cases restored.


  1. Lapa Barbershop

The Lapa barbershop and kiosk – the old designation of the square by reference to the Arcada church – exist on this site at least since 1899. Currently, only the business of gambling subsists. For several years the sign was incomplete because the upper part of the glass that supports it was broken. It was restored in the late 2010s.

Photo: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: Barbershop and Kiosk (partially deactivated).

Font and characteristics: three-dimensional. Painted glass. “Ghost sign”, will fade over time.


  1. Café Vianna

It was founded in 1858. In the early 90s of the last century the interior of the café was remodeled which gave it its current configuration. It dates from that time the previous neon with an incorrect indication of the year of foundation. It has recently been replaced by the current one in the photo, keeping the old neon with the name of the café above.

A – Sign on the facade:

Photo: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: Cafeteria and restaurant.

Font and characteristics: Sans serif. High-relief.

B – Neon on the interior:

Photograph: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: Cafeteria and restaurant.

Font and characteristics: Manuscript. Glass Neon.


  1. A Brasileira

Opened in 1907 in a part of the first floor of the building in Largo Barão de S. Martinho. Later it occupied the entire first floor and expanded into the adjoining building on R. de S. Marcos where another café operated. In the deep remodeling of the first decade of the 2000’s the sign came down from the guardrail where it was fixed and lost its green background. It is not, however, the sign of the early days of the establishment still spelled with “z”, with another support and another typography.

Photo: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: Cafeteria and restaurant.

Font and characteristics: Geometrized, with inspiration in Art Deco. Gold-plated brass letters.


  1. A Nova Brasileira

It opened in a building on the corner of R. de S. Marcos and Largo Barão de S. Martinho, built in the 1920s. On the first floor operated the shoe store Fox until the opening in 1930 of A Nova Brasileira – which until its closure caused the establishment with the same name on the other side of the R. de S. Marcos to be known as Brasileira Velha. After it closed in the late 1970s, the building housed the Vadeca record and appliance store. After a fire already in the 2000s the building was fully renovated and the old sign was visible again after several decades hidden behind the black box of the Vadeca sign (full width of the facade).

Photo: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: Cafeteria (currently jewelry store).

Font and characteristics: Ornate, with inspiration in Art Deco. Bas-relief.


  1. Casa Esperança

It was founded in 1887 in the building in the corner of  R. do Souto and R. de Janes. Eighty years later it opened a “sales hall” with a gallery, workshops and showrooms on R. de Janes, keeping the original store on R. do Souto. The house closed in the late 1990s of the last century, at which time the old sign was removed from the facade of the building.

Photograph: (unknown author and source), 1990’s.

Activity: glass and crystal, chinaware and sanitary ware, mirrors and accessories (currently an optometry store). This sign is no longer on the facade.

Font and characteristics: Ornate. Handmade painting 5m wide. “Ghost sign”, will fade over time.


  1. Laboratório Janes

A company that trades in luxury fashion, it was founded in 1982, in R. de Janes and later opened other stores in the city center. The store in R. de Janes was remodeled and reopened at the end of 2019 with the neon claim.

Photo: Rui Esteves da Silva, 2019

Activity: Clothing Store.

Font and characteristics: Sans serif. Glass Neon.


  1. Frigideiras do Cantinho

The house was founded in 1797 at a time when the original building formed a corner with the fence of the Casa do Passadiço. The opening of the Francisco Sanches street in 1949 forced the reconstruction of the building, which became a corner with the new street. The flag sign that replaced the advertisement painted on the facade of the demolished building dates from that time. The current flag sign corresponds, however, to a more recent version.

Photo: Nuno Dias, 2018

Activity: Cafeteria and Restaurant.

Font and characteristics: “Frigideiras do” – Sans serif / “Cantinho” – Condensed. Lettering in flag, with interior luminosity.


  1. 8. Lusitana

The Lusitana Bakery was founded on this site in the late nineteenth century. The huge east gable of the building served for several decades as an advertising medium for the establishment. It functioned until the last decade as a pastry factory. During the 20th century, the designation “bakery” gave way to “confectionery” and the spelling was updated to “s” on the signs of the two establishments.


Photo: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: pastry factory (currently deactivated).

Font and characteristics: Geometrized. Monoblock letters, leaving only the outer structure in sheet metal.


  1. Lusitana – Tea Room

In August 1955 the Lusitana Bakery opened in this newly constructed building its bright tea room overlooking the young Santa Barbara garden. The interior space was remodeled in 1986 and again in the 2010s.


Photo: Nuno Dias, 2018

Activity: Cafeteria and Pastry Shop.

Font and characteristics: Geometrized. Monoblock lettering in sheet metal and neon.


  1. Ferreira Capa

The pastry shop opened in 1929 by the hand of the entrepreneur Manoel Ferreira Capa. The interior halls were designed by Moura Coutinho although they have undergone several remodeling works in the last decades. The current sign hides the original painted on the facade that is still partially visible.


Photo: Nuno Dias, 2019

Activity: Cafeteria and Restaurant.

Font and characteristics: Condensed. Monoblock lettering.


  1. Armazéns Pinheiros

The establishment opened at the end of the 18th century in Campo da Vinha, moving to new premises on R. dos Capelistas at an undetermined date. The gable facing the Largo de S. Francisco served for several decades as an advertisement for the house. With the definitive closure in the late 1990’s, the store was occupied by an international chain that, however, kept the old commercial signs in the façade.

Photograph: Jorge Lens, 2005

Activity: Textile Commerce (currently a clothing store).

Font and characteristics: “Pines” – Manuscript / “Modas” – Sans serif. Low-relief.


  1. Casa da Sorte

Opened in October 1933 at the present location. The extensive and colorful neon claim on the top three floors rotatingly advertised the various branches and fascinated the youngsters. At the top of the sign was the company logo consisting of three spikes. It was probably removed, along with the facade tiles, during the demolition of the interior and general remodeling of the building to mark the 60th anniversary of the opening of the establishment.

Photograph: unknown author, c. 1960 [image taken from “A Casa da Sorte – Sua História no Âmbito dos Jogos de Fortuna ou Azar em Portugal”, Dias, A. Monteiro et al., Centro de Estudos Lusíadas, Braga, 2005].

Activity: Lottery business.

Font and characteristics: “Casa da Sorte” – Monoblock letters in sheet metal and neon. At the top, the various cities are based on a metal structure: “Braga” – monoblock letters in sheet metal and neon. In manuscript the remaining cities corresponding to the branches (evaluation possible from photo analysis).


Biographical Notes

Nuno Dias: 40 years old, born and lives in Braga. Graduated in Multimedia Design from the University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, where he graduated in 2007.  Driven by his passion, a little over 8 years ago he left his full-time job to dedicate himself to a life of independent work as a Graphic Designer and Illustrator and occasionally draw some typefaces. It was in 2008 that he published his first typeface, Origram, a free version, and it wasn’t until 2014 that he published his first commercial typeface. Following this passion, in 2016 he created the project Letras de Braga, with the main goal of cataloging and documenting all types of typography and graphics of the streets of the city of Braga.

Luís Tarroso Gomes: 45 years old bracarense and lawyer for over 20 years. In these two decades, he has led and participated in several civic movements for the preservation of the bracarense heritage. He was the founder and leader of ProjetoBragaTempo and Velha-a-Branca. Although not his main mission, this Cultural Site has, for many times, hosted initiatives related to the city’s heritage – from the Braga History Course to the collection and recording of the most diverse oral testimonies. In recent years, the Velha-a-Branca has also sought to collect and safeguard spoils from some of the city’s commercial establishments that have been disappearing, making evident and urgent the partnership with the Letras de Braga project.

Texts: Teresa Lima (introduction); Nuno Dias and Luís Tarroso (Road map)

Published on 05-05-2023


Crang, M., & Travlou, P. S. (2001). The city and topologies of memory. Environment and planning d: society and space19(2), 161-177. DOI:10.1068/d201t

Rosenberg, E. (2012). Walking in the city: Memory and place. The Journal of Architecture17(1), 131-149. DOI.org/10.1080/13602365.2012.659914



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