Going up the main staircase to the top, we reach the Grand Hall. At the end of 2010, this space was subject to a very simple refurbishment, which essentially focused on decorative elements and sought to increase the light intensity inside. The wall paper, placed during the rehabilitation works after the 1974 fire, was removed and the plaster ceiling was painted white when, until then, it had been white and gold.
The Grand Hall is profusely decorated with oil painted portraits. There are 50 paintings, among which four portraits of historical figures linked to the early history of the U.Porto, such as King D. João VI, founder of the Royal Navy and Trade Academy of Porto, Passos Manuel, founder of the Polytechnic Academy of Porto and António José de Almeida, responsible for creating the University of Porto. Here, you can also see pictures of teachers of the Royal Navy and Trade Academy, teachers and heads of the Polytechnic Academy and teachers and heads of the Faculty of Sciences: Vitorino Damásio, Parada Leitão, Rodrigues de Freitas, Ferreira da Silva, Mendes Correia, Venceslau de Lima, Gonçalo Sampaio and Augusto Nobre, prominent personalities in the political, economic, scientific and cultural spheres of Modern Portugal. The paintings were done by renowned Portuguese artists, such as Domingos Sequeira, João Baptista Ribeiro, Francisco José Resende and Marques de Oliveira, also connected to the U.Porto.
It is believed that the April 1974 fire broke out in this room, which was being prepared to host a bibliographical collection. The two oils on canvas by Veloso Salgado that decorated the east and west walls were totally destroyed by the flames. Only the canvases which we see today at the top of the main stairs of the building were saved.
Immediately after the fire, on 8 May 1974, the Decorative Sculpture Workshop Domingos Enes Baganha, a business that succeeded the Casa Baganha, in Rua do Rosário, estimated the cost for repairing the ceilings and wall panels in the Grand Hall, as well as the ceiling of the main staircase. The budget was submitted by this workshop, which was and still is a workshop specializing in "decorations, models, decorative elements for parks and gardens, gypsum plasterboards, fireplaces and civil construction" (cf. Directorate General for School Buildings - North - Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto: Report on the fire on 20/4/74 and photographs.. In Construction Projects). The advantage of contracting this workshop was that it had almost all models of ceiling and wall ornaments, because the supply and laying of the original pieces had been done by António Enes Baganha, the founder of the workshop.
At the time, the owner described the intervention work to be done after the fire:
"These ceilings will be done in reinforced gypsum plasterboard manufactured by us, and the different planes of frames will also be in gypsum, tied with copper wiring lined with gypsum in order to ensure lightness and greater stability. The wood in the framings, such as the cornice and crown mouldings linking the cornice to the ceiling will be lit, providing greater expansion.
(…) The walls of the Grand Hall will be completely redone at grout level, including panelling, pillars, bases, capitals and frames for future paintings.
In my opinion, the wall panels of the main stairs seem to be in a good state, so they will only need to be rehabilitated and fixed in places where this is not guaranteed". (cf. Directorate General for School Buildings - North – Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto: Report on the fire on 20/4/74 and photographs. In Construction Projects).
The estimate did not include the application of gold plating on ornaments and the treatment and finishings of the access doors to the Hall.
We often come across the terms "sobriety" and "simplicity" to characterize and describe the rehabilitation works inside the building, especially of furniture and decoration. The description in Memorial submitted to the Head of School Constructions in 10 August 1981, by architect Joaquim Marques de Araújo refers that:
"Given the recommendations made at the beginning as to the characteristics of furniture, including those of the Rectory Offices, we set aside the classical features and made comfortable models revealing a certain sense of dignity and harmony, with good finishing materials, and, especially, worthy of the various areas of work in this sector". (cf. Directorate General for School Buildings - North – Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto: Reconstruction of the North Wing – 3rd phase. Furniture, Equipment and Decoration Project. In Construction Projects).
By this time, several items of furniture and decoration had already been supplied and set in place in the "Grand Hall", namely: extensible study and reading tables, velvet curtains and corresponding metal suspension parts (in the balcony and door spans), portieri, chandelier type lamps, wall lights and paper bins. The mechanically operated curtain separating the "Grand Hall" and the throne room had not yet been assembled, according to the Memorial by Marques de Araújo, and the “beaded screen for projections” was also missing.".
The project for the "throne", also by Marques de Araújo, dates back to March 1979. It was made in Cambala wood, with 3 platforms built in top quality pinewood (cf. Directorate General for School Buildings - North – Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto: Reconstruction of the North Wing – 3rd phase. Furniture, Equipment and Decoration Project. In Construction Projects).
When the final estimate of the works was made in October 1981, they realized that the cost of "the curtain-clasps in the Grand Hall, in rope and tassels, including the finials" would have to be included under the heading "unforeseen works", probably because the cost had exceeded the budget (cf. Directorate General for School Buildings - North – Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto: Reconstruction of the North Wing – 3rd phase. Furniture, Equipment and Decoration Project. In Construction Projects).
The elements available before 1974 and that would be most useful to characterize, in terms of architecture, the evolution of the Grand Hall and of the adjacent areas are very scarce. Only a few photographs remain that document the occupation and decoration of these areas. We know, for example, that the size of the Grand Hall was not always the same. The increase of the academic community of the U.Porto certainly contributed to the need to enlarge it, expanding it to the adjacent room to the east.
The Grand Hall hosts the most formal events of University life: the taking up of office of the Rector, of the Rectory Team and of other management bodies of the University, os Doctorates Honoris causa and other ceremonies such as the vestiture of national and international teachers and researchers, the award of prizes and distinctions, some of the commemorations of the University Day, on 22 March. The use of this space has, however, has been democratized, and today it is customary for it to host other much less formal events, such as conferences, book presentations, receptions to students, concerts, performances of the Orfeão Universitário do Porto and even the Christmas party of the Reitoria.