Porto is actually the second most important city in Portugal behind its capital, Lisbon. The name and political entity of Portugal derived from the ancient name of the city “Portus Cale” (Cale harbor), later Porto e Gaia.
Although Celtic and pre-Celtic relics dated to about 275 BC have been found in the heart of the city, the history of Porto dates back to Roman times period when the city developed its importance as a commercial port, primarily in the trade between Olissipona (Lisbon) and Bracara Augusta (nowadays Braga). However, the Moorish Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 made this commercial port fall by a set of centuries.
In 868 Count Vímara Peres established the First County of Portugal (Condado de Portucale), after the reconquest of the region north of the Douro river.
In 1095, the illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso VI of Castile married Henry of Burgundy, bringing the County of Portugal as dowry. This Condado Portucalense became the focus of the Reconquista and later became the independent Kingdom of Portugal, after eventually expanding to its current frontiers into the south as it reconquered territory back from the invading Moors under the reign of King Afonso I of Portugal in the beginning of the 1st millennium.
In 1387, this city was the scene for the marriage of João I and Philippa of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. This confirmed the military alliance between Portugal and England that is the world's oldest recorded military alliance. After this union, the city began to thrive. People started to travel for miles to see the place where this infamous marriage took place.
Throughout the next three centuries, Porto grew and began to develop its own unique character and infrastructure. In the 14th and the 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto contributed to the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415 Henry the Navigator, son of João I, left from Porto to conquest the Muslim port of Ceuta in northern Morocco. This expedition led to the exploratory voyages that he later sent down the coast of Africa. This day is known by Portuguese as “tripeiros”, because all higher quality meat of the city would be loaded onto ships to feed sailors. After this fact, the inhabitants of Porto are called “tripeiros” and tripe still remains a culturally important dish in Porto.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the city became an important industrial centre and its size and population increased. A railway bridge, Maria Pia (1876-77), and an enormous iron bridge, D. Luis I (1881) were constructed at the beginning of the 19th century, as was the central railway station, São Bento. A higher learning institution in nautical sciences (Aula de Náutica, 1762) and a stock exchange (Bolsa do Porto, 1834) were also established in the city.
Due to the fact that Porto has never been conquered militarily either by the Romans or the Moors, as well as it resisted the military attack in the 19th century by Napoleon, Porto came to be known as the Unvanquished City (Cidade Invicta), a name which is still used today.
After the establishment of the Republic in 1910, the city underwent a renovation process. Porto is actually known as the city of work, because of the dynamism, courage and honesty of its citizens.
The historic centre of Porto was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. The World Heritage site is defined in two concentric zones; the "Protected area", and within it the "Classified area". The Classified area comprises the medieval borough located inside the 14th-century Romanesque wall.
Porto’s Cathedral has its origins in the 12th century, although it underwent many alterations over time. The Gothic rose window is the only part of the original façade that remains, especially after Baroque alterations in the 18th century. This is located in the historical center of the city and it is one of the most important Romanesque monuments in Portugal. Here was where Prince Henry, the Navigator was baptized and where King John I married the English Princess Philippa of Lancaster in the 14th century.
The Clerigos Tower
Between 1732 and 1763, the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni designed a Baroque-style church with a tower. Clérigos church tower was the tallest structure in Portugal when completed in 1763. The tower is 75,6 meters high and it has become a symbol of the city and a popular attraction for the aerial view of the city from the top.
Dom Luis I Bridge
The construction of the Porto’s iconic bridge was begun in 1881 and it was opened in 1886, when it held the record for the longest iron arch in the world. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel before he built the famous Paris tower. The bridge remained in service until 1991 and today the metro crosses the upper level, while the lower level is used by cars and pedestrians to cross the river between the center of Porto and the port wine warehouses of the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia.
The Ribeira Square is a historical square in Porto that is located in the historical district of the riverside. It spreads alongside the Douro River and it is used to be a centre of intense commercial and manufacturing activity since the Middle Ages. Also since that time the Ribeira Square was the site of many shops that sold fish, bread, meat and other goods. The alluring district of Ribeira is made up of medieval streets and seedy alleyways that is a crumbling but fascinating place, ending at a riverfront square. From Ribeira it is possible to see also the series of Port Wine houses across the river, as well as the attractive Cais de Gaia riverfront.
House of the Music (Casa da Música)
Casa da Música is a major concert hall space in Porto that was designed by world-renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas exclusively for musical performances. This irregular shaped building was built as part of Porto's project for European Culture Capital in 2001 although it opened in 2005. It is the house of a cultural institution and of its three orchestras Orquestra Nacional do Porto, Orquestra Barroca and Remix Ensemble.
It's located one of the city's main avenue (Avenida da Boavista that stretches for 7km toward the sea), on a roundabout. From outside the building is usually described as looking like a meteorite landed in the middle of the city.
The Serralves Foudation is an art foundation in Porto and its building was designed by the Portuguese architect José Marques da Silva. The House of Serralves is considered to be one of this architect greatest achievements. It is an elegant Art Déco building with magnificent gardens surrounding it, one of which was designed by French architect Jacques Gréber.
The Museu Serralves, the first large-scale contemporary art museum in Portugal, is located in the Quinta de Serralves; a large property close to the center of Porto. The 18 hectares of landscaped gardens designed by João Gomes da Silva contain natural farmland, modern sculptures and preserve the most important species already existing on the site.
The building includes 13000 m2 which includes 4500 m2 of exhibition space in 14 galleries. It opened its doors to the public in 1999 with the old Casa Serralves serving as the foundation’s head office. From the beginning, the various exhibitions have focused on the period following 1968 and with no permanent exhibitions the museum hosts five shows every year. In recent years, the museum has mounted exhibitions of Franz West, Roni Horn, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Richard Hamilton, Christopher Wool, and Luc Tuymans.
Cristal Palace Gardens
Cristal Palace Gardens is a beautiful landscaped park with a huge domed pavilion built in 1956 which replaced the 19th century iron-and-glass "Crystal Palace". Today this pavilion is the scene of many concerts and sporting events. It includes also a multimedia library, an auditorium, a cafeteria, and the Romantic Museum.
It is surrounded by a beautiful garden with a lake, flowerbeds, and roaming peacocks, all overlooking the Douro River. This place will also remain in the history of the city with the animations that appear on television and newspapers.
"Festas de São João"
The Saint John’s parties is the biggest festival on the Porto calendar, attracting people from all over the country to the historic city centre for a huge party that features musical events, barbecueing in the streets, a massive fireworks display and people banging each other on the head with plastic hammers.
It occurs once a year, on the 24th June, when people come to the city centre and to the most traditional neighborhoods to celebrate the Saint John’s day in a big party. The party has religious content but it still also mixes pagan traditions.
These celebrations have been held in the city for more than six centuries, yet it was during the 19th century that Saint John's day became impregnated in the city's culture and assumed the status of the city's most important festival.
Usually, the party starts early in the evening of 23 June with traditional attractions of the night include street concerts, popular dancing parties, jumping over flames, eating barbecued sardines and meat, drinking wine and releasing illuminated flame-propelled balloons over Porto's summer sky. People walk from Porto's riverside core (Ribeira) up to the seaside in Foz or in the nearby suburb of Matosinhos where they wait for the sunrise near the sea. It usually just ends in the morning of 24 June.
The party makes a break at midnight when everyone watches at Saint John's firework spectacle looking the Porto’s skies. This show is getting more sophisticated over the years with the association with themes and multimedia shows.
"Tripas à Moda do Porto"
“Tripas à moda do Porto” is a Portuguese dish particulary traditional from Porto. It is beef stomach with white beans and it is eaten simultaneously with rice.
This dish was invented at the time of the Portuguese discoveries when Infante D. Henrique asked the people of Porto all kinds of food to fill the ships for the taking of Ceuta in the military expedition commanded by D. João I in 1415. All the existing meat in the city had to be cleaned, salted and lodged in the vessels, leaving the people sacrificed solely for cooking with offal, including tripe. Thus, they had to invent alternatives ways of cooking that, resulting in the dish "Tripe in Porto".
This was perpetuated until today and become itself one of the most characteristic elements of the Porto’s gastronomy.
"Francesinha" was an invention in the 1960s when Daniel da Silva, a returned emigrant from France, tried to adapt the French toast “croque-monsieur” to Portuguese taste. Although it can be found somewhere else in Portugal, this sandwich is originally from Porto.
This is made with sausage, ham, cold meats and beef steak or, alternatively, roasted pork loin sliced and covered with cheese. It is usually garnished with a famous sauce. The accompaniments of fried eggs (on top of the sandwich) and fries are optional. "Francesinha" sauce is a secret, and each house has its variation. The only common ingredient is beer. Most sauces are also tomato based and vary in their degree of spiciness. The color is usually red or orange.
"Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá"
"Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá" is a typical dish from the city of Porto, being today popular throughout all Portuguese territory, and it is considered nowadays one of the Portugal’s greatest codfish recipes.
Tells the story that Gomes de Sá was the son of a rich nineteenth century merchant in Porto. The family fortune dwindled and the son had to find a job at the famous restaurant Restaurante Lisbonense in downtown Porto. It was there that he created the now well known recipe. This is made with codfish cut into small slivers marinated in milk for more than an hour. Oven roasted with olive oil, garlic, onion, black olives accompanied with parsley and boiled eggs.
The Douro River is one of the longest and largest rivers of the Iberian Peninsula. It crosses all the North part of the Peninsula, makes part of the Portuguese/Spanish border due to its profound and difficult to cross valley, and arrives to the Ocean at Porto, the second largest town of Portugal. In its international and Portuguese path, the River Douro crosses two main types of soil: slate and granite, the second being the nearest to the Atlantic Ocean. It is in its upper part that the River Douro produces a unique and extraordinary micro-climate “inside” its banks. Months of extreme heat during Summer time conflict with long months of extreme cold, during the rest of the year. Unique conditions of humidity are also fundamental to characterize this micro-climate that, in conjugation with the soil particular composition produces one of the World most extraordinary wines: the Port Wine.
Port Wine grapes are cultivated up river, on the abrupt hills that form the river banks. But traditionally, Port Wine was matured near the sea in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town facing Porto on the southern bank of the river. For that, the wine had to travel west, and the river was the best way for do that. A special kind of boats (the “Rabelos”) was developed for that purpose. They are long, with only one sail; the job of making them come safely down the river was not an easy one and accidents occurred in especially difficult passages, as “Valeira” for example. Going back up river was not a lighter job: boats had to be pulled by cows, marching on special paths on the river banks, during long parts of their journey east. Presently, the wine no longer sails down the river, the “rabelos” being only a symbol of the old times and a touristy attraction.
Thus, it was in the 18th century that Porto became an important link between the Douro Valley wine producers and wine importing countries like England. Production of port wine became big business which became possible thanks to the Rabelo boats. From Vila Nova de Gaia the wine was shipped out to buyers in other European countries and, increasingly, the rest of the world.