Porto Travel Information

Mother Earth Travel > Portugal > Porto > History

Porto, a council city and capital of the district, is situated on the right embankment of river Douro, and follows the river up until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. It is considered, without doubt, to be the second city in Portugal and it is about 300 Km from Lisbon.

The atmosphere or the spirit of the city is very unique. The granite and its grey tones are a trademark Porto's landscape, and if we add to this, the tremendous amount of rain in the city (superior to London) we would get the impression that Porto is a sinister city, wrapped in fog and everlasting greys. Nevertheless, a closer look at the city reveals a different aspect, it is less severe and more colourful than at first sight. So, look at the city from Vila Nova de Gaia, namely from the turret from Serra do Pilar, from there you can see the row of houses along the embankment (the Ribeira), with their ochre roofs and their subtlely coloured walls, are so typical of the historical area of the city. Therefore, Porto reveals a very picturesque feature, that deserves to be enjoyed.

Porto has been extending and developing for ages, creating very different areas, and it is essentially, a business city.

The city is oficially divided into two Administrative quarters: the Eastern Quarter, that includes the Campanhã, Bonfim, Santo Ildefonso and Sé and the Western Quarter, which includes Aldoar, Cedofeita, Lordelo, Massarelos, Miragaia, Nevogilde, Paranhos, Ramalde, São Nicolau and Vitória. However, for a better understanding of the city, we have divided Porto into the following areas:
a) Historical Area
b) Downtown
c) Foz and Boavista Areas
d) Eastern Area

a) The historical area includes the Sé, São Nicolau, Vitória, and Miragaia. This is the ancient part of the city, which was developped during the Middle Ages. The historical area starts downhill from the Cathedral (Sé) to the riverside (Ribeira), with the borders nearly reaching Foz. This area contains a number of ancient houses, where we can see the monumental legacy of the city.

b) Downtown is essentially the commercial area of the city, and is formed by the Santo Ildefonso, and Cedofeita areas. It is situated to the north of the river and its biggest development occurred in the 18th, 19th centuries and at the beginning of the 20th century, where examples of the architecture of these periods are very evident.
The streets of Santa Catarina and Sá da Bandeira, the Batalha, the Avenida dos Aliados and Cedofeita are the most remarkable places in Porto.
In the area of Cedofeita, the influence of the English colonies of the 18th and 19th centuries is still very evident.

c) The Foz and Boavista areas were, till the end of the 19th century, very undeveloped places, with rural characteristics, but with the enlargement of the city, in the beginning of the 20th century, and as the beaches became more popular-very common in that period of time- the area went through a lot of development. This was the perfect area for the bourgeois settle, and so it is still possible to see the enormous Belle Époque mansions in the Avenida da Boavista and in the Avenida do Brasil, located near the sea.
Nowadays, Boavista and Foz has become very different areas to the rest of the city, with many big shopping centres, five-star hotels and a very active life at night, especially by the sea, in the terrace cafés in Foz.

d) The Eastern area, Campanhã, Bonfim and Paranhos, is similar to Foz, a new area of the city that has grown since the end of the 19th century along with the industrial development of the city. But, unlike Foz, the eastern area was dominated mainly by the working classes of Porto, men and women from the countryside that, leaving their homelands, moved here to work in the factories. That is the reason why this eastern area of Porto, where most of the working quarters are installed, is called 'ilhas' (islands).

However, Porto isn't complete, we still have to include its neighbouring areas, such as Vila Nova de Gaia, Matosinhos, Gondomar and Maia. Together, they form what is known as 'Grande Porto' (Greater Porto).