The coastal city of Porto’s worldwide fame comes from port wine, and it is almost synonymous with this aromatic fortified wine. But there is more… With a burly beauty all its own, Portugal’s second city, built on granite bluffs above the Duoro River, is a tangle of narrow cobbled streets winding steeply down, past merchants’ houses decorated with azulejos tiles and wrought iron balconies filled with potted flowers and romantic cafes to a medieval waterfront. Dramatically straddling the Duoro River are six stately bridges, connecting the Ribeira District with Vila Nova de Gaia, home to historic port wine lodges, where vast grape harvests arrive every year, brought down the Duoro River to be aged, blended and bottled. Porto is the 15th century residence of the royal family and a bastion of trade, and it boasts art treasures, medieval cathedrals, famous museums, a fine library, and many old mansions which trace their beginnings to fortunes made in Portugal’s overseas colonies and to events leading up to the Age of Discoveries.
Despite its working-class reputation, Porto radiates the spell-binding and mysterious atmosphere, and for reasons that almost seem irrational, the city seduces everyone who passes through it. Clinging to steep hillsides and looking into a river whose banks are lined with romantic boats and piers, the city seems to be in a state of perpetual animation. The city’s central districts are sprinkled with sumptuous mansions with rich baroque ornamentation, the granite churches seeming so austere from the outside, wow with excessive, gold leaf covered interiors, and the broad avenues skirt alleys, passages and stairways crisscrossing in an outrageous disorder and complexity.
The city of Porto gave its name to the country of Portugal and its language. The names Portus and Cale have been around since 138 BC, when these two towns on the opposite sides of the Duoro were under Roman domination. During the many periods of foreign occupation (Swabian, Visigoth and Muslim), the city of Portus, which had become O Porto, quickly developed and overtook its neighbor Cale. Around 1093, as a gesture of appreciation for the help provided by the House of Burgundy in its struggle for reconquest, the Castilian Crown entrusted the lands between the Minho and the Mondego to Henry of Burgundy. Thus was born the country of Portucale.