History of Porto

Porto’s history goes back further than many other European cities, as there are Palaeolithic rock drawings and other archaeological findings indicating homo sapiens was present more than 20 thousand years ago in an area between the Alto Douro Wine Region and Vale do Côa.

How it all began

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The birth of Porto as a city dates back to the Roman period, to 8th century B.C. Celtic ruins have also been discovered in various areas. This city was under the remit of the Moors in 711, during the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. In 868 it was called ‘Cale’ or ‘Portus Cale’, which later gave rise to the name Portugal.

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Over time, Porto became part of the trading route between Braga and Lisbon. In 1111, D. Teresa, the mother of D. Afonso Henriques, who was the first king of Portugal, handed over the ‘land of Porto’ to Bishop D. Hugo. The city’s coat of arms includes a picture of Our Lady, which is why Porto is also known as the “City of the Virgin’. That bishop began building the Porto Cathedral, the dawn of the city’s growth, which emerged from within the cathedral walls and gradually spread down to Ribeira (the riverside area).

Porto’s development has always been very closely linked to the south bank of the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia, the home of the wine lodges where the fine Douro wine is left to age. The grapes were harvested from the vines planted on the banks of the Douro River and then transported in the city’s typical ‘rabelo’ boats. The wine lodges were set up in Gaia because the wines aged better if they were in a temperate, damp location, which was exactly what that side of the river provided.

During 13th Century, Porto exported the wine that was produced in the Douro by establishing relations in international markets. And it was at the end of that century, and during the next, that the export of Douro wines began to gain importance.

And it was also in this city where D. John I of Portugal married Princess Philippa of Lancaster, of English origin, in 1397. It was this marriage that gave birth to a military alliance between England and Portugal and the couple’s son, Henry the Navigator (Infante D. Henrique), played a prominent role in the history of the country, as he organised voyages to the African coast.

During 14th century, there was a huge increase in the population of the city, especially along the banks of the Douro River, due to the increasing importance of the trading and maritime activities. At that time, the settlement began to spread to beyond the boundary of the walls of the Porto Sé Cathedral, to the Old City Wall. In the middle of that century, the New City Wall began to be built, which also became known as the Fernandine Wall, as although it was begun during the times of D. Afonso IV, it was only concluded during the reign of D. Fernando.

At the beginning of 15th century, Porto’s urban environment was limited to within the Fernandine Wall, simply comprising a tight network of mostly narrow, irregular streets. During this century, the Porto shipyards were pioneers in the country’s naval development, thanks to Henry the Navigator.

During 16th century Porto began its urban and economic growth. As from 1521, on the initiative of the king, D. Manuel I, the main streets of the city began to be created, such as Rua de Santa Catarina das Flores, now called Rua das Flores. Gradually, the city became more elegant and refined. It was during this century that some of the most splendid buildings came into existence, such as Convento de Santa Clara, Convento de Lóios and Mosteiro de São Bento da Vitória.

These 17th and 18th centuries were responsible for dynamic architectural activity, both for religious and civil purposes. With regard to public works, springs and fountains were built and Baroque-style buildings emerged, such as Paço Episcopal, Igreja e Torre dos Clérigos, Palácio do Freixo and Palácio de São João Novo.

With regard to commercial relations, in 1703, the Treaty of Methuen was signed by Portugal and England and in 1717 the first English factory was set up in Porto. As Port wine production was almost entirely run by the English, the prime-minister of Portugal at that time, the Marquis of Pombal, set up a Portuguese company to control a monopoly over these wines. He was the one who created the ‘Demarcated Region of Alto Douro’, the oldest in the world, with the objective of controlling the wine’s quality and production.

The 19th century was a time of political instability in Porto, involving the French invasions and the liberal wars. In 1809, the French troops invaded the city, under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte. History indicates that the locals managed to expel the French troops from Porto with the help of the English, more specifically with the help of the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley and his army, who crossed the Douro River in the boats that transported the wine, thus defeating the French army.

During the 1832 to 1834 civil war, the city resisted the siege of the miguelista troops – the so-called Siege of Porto – which was what led to the title of ‘Undefeated City of Porto’, attributed by the queen, D. Maria II.

As from the second half of this century, the city expanded once again, opening up new thoroughfares outside the walls that formed the city’s boundary. At that time, residential areas sprung up, markets were built (such as Mercado do Bolhão, in 1837), gardens (the São Lázaro Garden in 1834 and the Cordoaria Garden in 1866), the gas street lighting systems emerged in 1855, and the domestic water supply and drainage networks were built.

The monarch was overthrown in Portugal at the beginning of 20th century, with the Republic proclaimed in 1910. However, in January 1919, the powers in favour of restoring the monarchy launched a counter-revolution in Porto, which they called the ‘Monarchy of the North’. At that time, Porto became known as the capital of the restored kingdom, but the monarchy was quickly overthrown and no other monarchical revolution has taken place in Portugal since.

In 1996, the Historic Centre of Porto, which is the oldest urban area of the city, with was classified as Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO and even today, despite all the different eras and all the development that has taken place, the centre of Porto still maintains a faithful image of its past, with its narrow streets and old buildings.



17 Comments on “History of Porto

  1. Stunning photos of a city I’ve been planning to go to for years due to my interest in Maritime History. Prince Henry was truly a man ahead of his time or at par with the Chinese Zheng He at the very least :).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very interesting history for this long lived city! Hard to imagine a city being around for such a long time. Beautiful pics too! Thanks so much for the tour Sheree!😊😸📷

    Liked by 1 person

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