World Facts Index > Portugal > Porto

Porto, a council city and capital of the district, is situated on the right embankment of river Douro, and follows the river up until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. It is considered, without doubt, to be the second city in Portugal and it is about 300 Km from Lisbon.

The atmosphere or the spirit of the city is very unique. The granite and its grey tones are a trademark Porto's landscape, and if we add to this, the tremendous amount of rain in the city (superior to London) we would get the impression that Porto is a sinister city, wrapped in fog and everlasting greys. Nevertheless, a closer look at the city reveals a different aspect, it is less severe and more colourful than at first sight. So, look at the city from Vila Nova de Gaia, namely from the turret from Serra do Pilar, from there you can see the row of houses along the embankment (the Ribeira), with their ochre roofs and their subtlely coloured walls, are so typical of the historical area of the city. Therefore, Porto reveals a very picturesque feature, that deserves to be enjoyed.

Porto has been extending and developing for ages, creating very different areas, and it is essentially, a business city.

The city is oficially divided into two Administrative quarters: the Eastern Quarter, that includes the Campanhã, Bonfim, Santo Ildefonso and Sé and the Western Quarter, which includes Aldoar, Cedofeita, Lordelo, Massarelos, Miragaia, Nevogilde, Paranhos, Ramalde, São Nicolau and Vitória. However, for a better understanding of the city, we have divided Porto into the following areas:
a) Historical Area
b) Downtown
c) Foz and Boavista Areas
d) Eastern Area

a) The historical area includes the Sé, São Nicolau, Vitória, and Miragaia. This is the ancient part of the city, which was developped during the Middle Ages. The historical area starts downhill from the Cathedral (Sé) to the riverside (Ribeira), with the borders nearly reaching Foz. This area contains a number of ancient houses, where we can see the monumental legacy of the city.

b) Downtown is essentially the commercial area of the city, and is formed by the Santo Ildefonso, and Cedofeita areas. It is situated to the north of the river and its biggest development occurred in the 18th, 19th centuries and at the beginning of the 20th century, where examples of the architecture of these periods are very evident.
The streets of Santa Catarina and Sá da Bandeira, the Batalha, the Avenida dos Aliados and Cedofeita are the most remarkable places in Porto.
In the area of Cedofeita, the influence of the English colonies of the 18th and 19th centuries is still very evident.

c) The Foz and Boavista areas were, till the end of the 19th century, very undeveloped places, with rural characteristics, but with the enlargement of the city, in the beginning of the 20th century, and as the beaches became more popular-very common in that period of time- the area went through a lot of development. This was the perfect area for the bourgeois settle, and so it is still possible to see the enormous Belle Époque mansions in the Avenida da Boavista and in the Avenida do Brasil, located near the sea.
Nowadays, Boavista and Foz has become very different areas to the rest of the city, with many big shopping centres, five-star hotels and a very active life at night, especially by the sea, in the terrace cafés in Foz.

d) The Eastern area, Campanhã, Bonfim and Paranhos, is similar to Foz, a new area of the city that has grown since the end of the 19th century along with the industrial development of the city. But, unlike Foz, the eastern area was dominated mainly by the working classes of Porto, men and women from the countryside that, leaving their homelands, moved here to work in the factories. That is the reason why this eastern area of Porto, where most of the working quarters are installed, is called 'ilhas' (islands).

However, Porto isn't complete, we still have to include its neighbouring areas, such as Vila Nova de Gaia, Matosinhos, Gondomar and Maia. Together, they form what is known as 'Grande Porto' (Greater Porto).

History of Porto

The first evidence of settlers in Porto emerged at the end of the Bronze Age, in the 8th century B.C. and were situated near the present Morro da Sé. This ancient village is known as Cividade, but any traces left of this area was demolished in 1940.

The conquest of the what is now Portuguese territory by the Romans took place between the 2nd and 1stcenturies B.C, and during this period, we should point out the conquests made by Decimus Junius Brutus, the commander-in-chief serving Julius Caeser, who conquered a vast territory to the north of River Tagus.

During the 4th and 5th century A.D, the whole of the Roman Empire was invaded by Northern-European tribes. Amongst these invaders, the Vandals and the Suevos (from the modern area of Berlin, in Germany) settled in Porto, and the Suevos founded a Christian kingdom in the 5th century, where Porto and the river Douro were united. The capital of the Suevo Kingdom was Bracara (now city of Braga).

Later, in the 6th century, the Visigoths, another tribe from the north of Europe that settled in Iberia, invaded the Kingdom of Suevos, and in 580 A.D, this kingdom was dominated by the Visigoths. A number of coins found in Porto, date from the 6th and 7th centuries and are from the visigothic period and they contain the lettering 'Portucale', the ancient name of the city that would be later named Portugal.

After the Arab Invasion of Iberia, in the year 711, the Visigoths fell from grace and they were forced back towards Asturias, in the north of Spain, where they formed a little Christian kingdom. Porto was almost completely abandoned and it fell into decay, going from an important Suevo and Visigoth city, to a border town of the Arabic Empire.

However, in 868, an army of medieval knights, led by the count Vimara Peres, sailed up the river Douro and conquered Porto. During this period, the city walls were rebuilt and Porto became an important place once more, and its name Portucale, became the name of an enormous area that extended from the river Douro to the river Minho.

Around the year 1000, Porto went on to be invaded by the Vikings, led by the warrior Gundereth and the Arabs, led by the 'demon-warrior Al-Mansur, a dangerous Islamic warrior chief who went up to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia (Spain) and destroyed the famous Cathedral. Porto only recovered from this period of violent invasion in the 12th century, during the formation of Portugal, and it is then that Porto is endowed to the Bishop, and the cathedral began to be rebuilt.

Porto became a very important commercial centre and the Douro river welcomed ships from all Europe. Commerce grew fast and the city, which only went up to the hillock where the Cathedral stands (the medieval Pena Ventosa), grew too, mainly from the gains that commerce brought and the bourgeois social set became a very distinguished.

By the middle of the 14th century, the city limits were so large that it was necessary to build a new line of walls that were finished in 1370, during the reign of king Fernando I. This is the so-called 'Fernandina Wall', that nowadays can be seen in some parts of the city, especially near the upper platform of the D.Luís I bridge.

Around 1415 a naval base was built in Porto and ships set sail from the river Douro towards the city of Ceuta, in North of Africa. The purpose of this voyage was the conquest of new lands and set the famous Portuguese Discoveries and Conquests in motion.

One of the most traditional dishes of the city, the 'Tripas à Moda do Porto", appeared during this period, because the Porto people gave a great quantity of meat to the military forces, keeping only tripe (tripas) for themselves. This is the reason why the people of Porto are called 'Tripeiros'.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Porto's commercial side was further developed by the export of Port Wine all over Europe. With this new-found success, important buildings such as Clérigos Tower, the Carmo and Santo Ildefonso or the Bishop Palace (Paço Episcopal) were built, mostly in a Baroque style by the well-known Italian architect Nicolao Nasoni. At the same time, large streets (ruas) were open, like for example the Rua das Flores, Rua do Almada or Rua dos Clérigos.

At the beginning of the 19th century, it seemed that Porto was city looking towards the future, after long periods of peace and economic wealth. However, peace didn't last long, and in 1807 the city suffered a violent invasion by the troops of Napoleon but the city succeeded, with the help of the British, to banish general Junot. Napoleon didn't give up and in 1809 invaded Porto again and it was during these invasions that the terrible Bridge of Barques disaster took place. The result of this tragedy was the loss of hundreds of panic-stricken people, trying to escape from French soldiers, and drowning in the Douro.

The 19th century, as we have seen, began so tragically for Porto, but it became another century of high growth, not only economically, because Porto became the first industrial and financial centre in Portugal, but also the politically. The famous names of the Portuguese Liberalism, the men who fought for Parliament and, later on, for the Republic, were native to Porto. Simultaneously, Porto was also the cultural centre of the country, and important names of the Romance Literature, such as Garrett and Camilo Castelo Branco are associated with the city of Porto in the 19th century.

As recognition for their brave defence of the values of Liberty and Freedom during the Civil War (1832-34), that Porto received the title of 'Cidade Invicta' (Unconquered City), the victorious city that defeated the old-fashioned Portuguese order, which followed Absolutism. The beginning of the 20th century was equally a period of growth, as the Avenue of Aliados was opened and the modern system of drainage and sanitation was completed.


Custom Search

Copyright 2005 worldfacts.us