Historic Center of Porto (World Heritage)

The ancient Portus Cale is terraced into the steep rock walls on the banks of the Douro. From 716 to 997 the city was under Moorish rule. The mighty cathedral towers over the picturesque old town, the Ribeira, with its narrow streets, churches and typical granite houses.

Historic Center of Porto: Facts

Official title: Historic center of Porto
Cultural monument: Old town with the Cais de Ribeira, the Sé cathedral with the Renaissance tombs of the rich merchant family Brandão Pereira, the churches of São Ildefonso (18th century), São Pedro dos Clérigos, dos Grilos and de Misericórdia, the Palácio de Bolsa (stock exchange) and the Paço Episcopal (Archbishop’s Palace)
Continent: Europe
Country: Portugal
Location: Porto (Oporto), at the mouth of the Douro
Appointment: 1996
Meaning: an urban landscape with more than 1000 years of history; Center of the port wine trade

Historic Center of Porto: History

1st century BC Chr. Porto is called Portus Cale and is owned by the Romans
540 Conquered by Visigoths
716 Submission by the Moors
1050 Entry of a victorious Christian army of knights
1336-76 Construction of the 2nd city wall (Muralha Fernandina)
4.03.1384 Birth of the Infante Heinrich the Navigator, who later became Grand Master of the Order of Christ
1401 Establishment of the first exchange
1580-1640 Occupied by Spain
1703 through the Methuen Treaty import concessions for English cloth merchants
1732-1748 Construction of the São Pedro dos Clérigos Church
1756 Foundation of the Portuguese Douro wine company
1771 Start of construction of the Bishop’s Palace
1805-1809 Occupied by France
1891 Suppression of the Republican uprising

Built on granite

Starting from a Celtic port at the mouth of the Douro, the small port developed into the second largest city in Portugal, which also became a bishopric and university town. Porto – with the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the fertile vineyard landscape in the east – is not only the productive center of the country, but also the “secret capital”.

Built on solid granite, their upswing was based on good relationships overseas and a flourishing trade in port wine. “People don’t live in Porto, they work,” claims a proverb that sounds less like the southern way of life and more like the Calvinist ethos and Hanseatic pursuit of profit.

In cities that are characterized by shipping and trade, different laws prevail than in stately residences or political centers of power, whose “chiefs” often plundered the state treasury in order to erect a monument for themselves. In Porto’s cityscape one looks in vain for aristocratic castles, because “blue-blooded” have not been allowed to settle in republican Porto since the Middle Ages. It was in Porto that an uprising in 1820 sparked a republican movement that led to the abolition of the monarchy in 1910.

Even the cosmopolitan port city could not do without pompous palaces, such as the bishop’s palace, which identifies northern Portugal as a stronghold of the church, and the stock exchange, which could not better present itself as the center of power in the business world. In a city where the long-established merchants, bankers and industrialists set the tone in business and politics, the urban architecture was also shaped by their signature, through stately patrician houses and a monstrous town hall, but also many granite churches.

While the economic metropolis expanded far beyond the outskirts, the historical core remained almost untouched by the modern age. There, the items of laundry dangle unchanged in front of wrought-iron balconies, lattice windows and shutters, and the facades are clad with decorative tiles or painted in traditional yellow. Terrace after terrace, the narrow, crooked apartment buildings climb from the harbor quay up the granite hill to the gray cathedral. The labyrinthine maze of alleys in the old town is the postage of poor people, fishermen, craftsmen and market women, which has meanwhile turned into a trendy district with chic bars and restaurants because of its charm.

Down on the Douro, where more than five centuries ago the caravels of the old naval power set off to discover the world, nowadays disused wine ships are moored for advertising purposes. The bridge “Dom Luís I” boldly spans its arch to the other bank to Vila Nova de Gaia, to the port wine cellars of the Sandemans, Caléms and Grahams. This is where the famous high percentage capital is stored, which fell into the hands of English merchants in the early 18th century.

Porto owes its reputation as a “baroque city” to an architect of Italian origin, Niccolò Nasoni. All the important baroque buildings were built at his drawing table, such as the Bishop’s Palace, the Paço Episcopal, the Igreja de Misericórdia and the landmark of Porto, the Igreja de São Pedro dos Clérigos with the striking bell tower. At the same time as the Baroque era, merchants brought the gold mined in Portugal’s colony of Brazil into the city, the raw material for the art of the »talha dourada«. In their zeal for decoration, Nasoni and his colleagues covered all wood carvings, altars, pulpits and walls with the shiny precious metal and combined it with artistic blue and white tiles. Their opulent interior decorations can be seen to this day in the churches of Santa Clara, São Francisco, dos Congregados and Carmo. So it is not surprising.

Historic Center of Porto (World Heritage)