History of Porto

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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.

Nowadays Porto is a modern, active city devoted to economy and, in spite of having lost it's political power owning to the centralismof Lisbon, it continues to be a city where history and culture are not just words, as it was chosen by UNESCO, in 1996, as a site of World Patrimony and in 2001, it will be the European Capital of Cultu