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Portugal’s second largest city has a history going back some 4000 years, making it one of the oldest towns in Europe. As a booming industrial centre some people find it ugly. Others are quick to discover the charms of the old town and the wine-related treats of Vila Nova de Gaia’s port lodges.
For most visitors Porto’s heart is in its old town, on the bank of the river. The area is covered by dense clusters of tall, dilapidated, red-tiled houses thrown haphazardly together in what looks like an oversized village spilling down from the city centre to the Ribeira district on the River Douro quayside.
Experience women in voluminous skirts selling fruit, vegetables and sardines, while washing lines overhead flap with white sheets and brightly coloured clothing. Far from being a sanitised old town, as is found in so many European cities, this is a real living quarter, buzzing with activity.
Read more on this destination in the AA KeyGuide to Portugal.
The history of Porto
Archaeology suggests that the Celts were some of the first to inhabit the area around 275BC. The name Porto originated in Roman times, when Lusitanian settlements could be found on both banks of the river Duoro.
The area fell briefly into the hands of the Moors around 711AD, then under Gallaecian rule in 868AD, but was liberated around 1000AD and set as the county of Portucale with Porto at its capital. In 1095 Henri of Burgundy was granted the land , with his son, Afonso Henriques launching the Reconquista, a Christian conquest that resulted in Portugal's status as an independent kingdom.
Around the 14th century British wine merchants, who were forbidden from trading with the French at the time, established themselves here and have remained until this day, identifiable in labels such as Taylors and Grahams Port.
Throughout its history, Porto became renowned as an area of rebels. In 1628 the woman launched an attack in response to a tax on linen. In 1757 when regulations where put into place on the port trade it incensed a riot, and in 1808 citizens arrested the governor and attempted to set up their own junta (small group ruling a country) in rebellion to Napoleon’s troops occupying the city. Following the British expelling the French in 1822, a new liberal constitution was put in place.
It was the 19th century that saw Porto progress. Profits from the successful port and wine trade allowed the area to develop and grow being only bettered by the significantly larger city of Lisbon.
Portugal remains one of the country’s most important trading city’s with an ever popular wine and port trade from the riverfront in Vila Nova di Gaia.
Residents are proud of their heritage and the strength that gives them the ability to remain an independent city, often being referred to as the Cidade Invicta (the unvanquished city) having never been officially conquered by either the Romans, Moors and French armies.
In 1996, UNESCO granted the city World Heritage Status with two specific zones, the protected area and the classified area and to this day is still most renowned for its world famous export, port wine.