When Bacchus and Lusus came to the Peninsula, sundered from Italy by the
Mediterranean Sea, they discovered a delightful region of mountains and
glens, well-watered and fertile, which they called Lusitania. Between
the rivers Minho and Douro is a glowing tract of country, not unlike the
finest parts of North Wales, with a varied sea coast, bright little
villages nestling among the hills, and well-tilled fields, vineyards,
and gay gardens. Mountains screen this district on the north and east,
and the vast Atlantic washes it on the west. Here is the chief
wine-growing quarter of Portugal, a land appropriately colonised by
Bacchus; and in the centre of the wine-making and exporting industry is
Porto, the capital of the province of Entre-Douro-e-Minho.

“Porto the Proud” is a very old city and seaport on the right bank of
the impetuous Douro, and within a few miles of the coast. The river is
tidal and broad, and big ships come to the busy quays below the great
suspension bridge. At the mouth of the Douro is a bar, much dreaded
by sailors, for it is rocky at this point, and generally a rough sea
breaks and foams at the outlet.

Porto is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I visited it in
June, when the terraces and gardens were aglow with flowers, the streets
steeped in perpetual sunshine, the sky a deep blue, and the sunsets
gorgeous. It is a bright city, seen from the opposite bank, with houses
rising one above the other on slopes that are almost precipitous. Here
and there the rock juts out among the villas that overhang the river,
while verdure shows on the high banks. In parts of the gorge the cliffs
rise to three hundred feet.

Porto is a city of squares. There are several of these open spaces, all
planted with trees, well-paved, and surrounded by tall buildings which
lend a Moorish atmosphere to the towns. It is a centre of craftsmen. In
one thoroughfare you will find harness-makers and hatters busily
employed; in another goldsmiths and jewellers ply their trade. The
markets are thronged with peasants from the vineyards, the women dressed
in the gaudiest garments, with huge earrings and great gold brooches.
Perhaps nowhere in Europe can so many prosperous and cheerful
country-folk be seen assembled as in the streets of Porto on a market
day. Ox carts come laden with barrels; the river is dotted with the
curiously shaped _barcos_ that bring the wine from the rustic presses
far up the valley; and up the steep alleys clamber the pannier-donkeys,
with fruit heaped in the baskets.

The yoked oxen, led by sedate men–with large sallow faces, their loose
limbs clothed in short jackets, and wearing the ancient hats of the
district–the mule carts and the pack-donkeys appear mediæval and
strangely out of accord with the modern motor cars of the fashionable
citizens. Porto is both old and new. Paris and London fashions in dress
may be seen in the shopping quarters. There is a large colony of English
people in the city, and many French and German merchants. Here you will
see a native of the hills in his national garb; there a lady clad in the
newest Parisian apparel; here an English sailor, and there a Spaniard.
All is movement, animation, colour, when the streets are gay and crowded
on a holiday.

The climate of Porto is pleasant and healthy. In the height of summer
the heat is tempered by breezes from the Atlantic, and from the
mountains on the east. There is a high average of sunshine. During the
winter there is a considerable rainfall, and occasional snow. Around the
city is a delightfully varied country of hills and valleys, watered by
clear streams, and highly cultivated in the straths. On the slopes are
roads of oak, chestnut, and birch. In the sheltered vales oranges, figs,
lemons, and many other fruits thrive excellently. Strawberries are large
in size and abundant. Vegetables grow with but little culture in this
fertile land, and there are flower gardens with an opulence of colour.

On the south bank of the Douro there was probably an early Roman
settlement. The Vandals swept down upon Lusitania when the power of the
Romans waned, and after them came other Teuton hordes–the Suevi and the
fierce Visigoths. About the middle of the eighth century the Moors
conquered Portugal, and held it for three centuries. The Asturians of
northern Spain appear to have reconquered this part of Portugal in the
time of Ferdinand I. of Castile. After the subduing of the Moors,
Alfonso I. was proclaimed king of Portugal. Until about 1380 the House
of Burgundy held the throne, and from that date the country rose in
power, and became commercially prosperous. John I. of Portugal married
the daughter of John of Gaunt, and became a staunch ally of England,
receiving the Order of the Garter.

This was a stirring period in the history of the country, a time of
strenuous warfare with Castile, and the last remnant of the Moors.

In the reign of Juan of Castile, Portugal became one of the chief
exploring nations of Europe. Henry, third son of the king, was studious,
and learned in astronomy and geography. He obtained royal subsidies, and
gathered about him travellers and seamen whom he inspired to set forth
on voyages of discovery. Two vessels were sent by the prince to round
the southernmost point of Africa, with the object of reaching the East
Indies. In 1418 the voyagers discovered Madeira, which was made a
Portuguese settlement; but they dreaded the rounding of the south Cape
of Africa, a point greatly dreaded by all mariners in those days. The
Canary Islands passed at this time into the hands of a French
adventurer, De Bethancourt, whose heirs afterwards sold the colony to
Henry of Portugal.

Vasco de Gama’s famous expedition to India was undertaken in 1497, and
this bold explorer, unlike his predecessors, doubled the Cape of Good
Hope, and travelled as far as Mozambique, where he found pilots who
offered to direct his course to India. The pilots, however, proved
treacherous. Eventually, after many delays, a trustworthy pilot was
found at Melinda, and De Gama reached India, where he opened trading
relations with the natives. At the end of two years the discoverer
returned to Portugal and was received with great honour.

The prosperity of Porto was largely due to the maritime enterprises of
this period. Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500, and De Cortereal is said
to have reached Greenland. The sea-rovers were the makers of modern
Portugal. The great empire of Brazil was colonised by Juan III. in 1531;
and the Portuguese claimed great territories in the East, which yielded
splendid revenues. This was the most illustrious epoch in the history of
Portugal. Parts of India and China were colonised. Art and learning
flourished in the time of Manuel I., and the architectural style known
as the Arte Manoelina was developed. This style is a flamboyant Gothic,
with Indian and Morisco influence, full of fantasy and often

The colonisers attempted to convert the people of India to Christianity,
and the zealous St Francis Xavier conducted a mission to that country in
the reign of Juan III. Trade with Japan was opened at this time.

After a long spell of fortune, disaster fell upon Portugal. Philip II.
of Spain envied the western strip of the Peninsula, and in 1580 he
seized Portugal and annexed it to Spain. It was not until 1640 that the
Portuguese regained their territory, and placed the Duke of Braganza on
the throne.

During the Peninsular War, the city of Porto was the scene of severe
fighting, when the troops of Marshal Soult were surprised and routed by
the force of Wellington. In 1832 the Miguelites besieged the city, and
were defeated, with much loss, by the Pedroites. Civil disturbances have
frequently shaken the town.

In 1838 the powerful Porto Wine Company was re-established. The port
wine, for which Porto is famed throughout the globe, is the staple
product of the district. There is little doubt that the port of our
grandfathers was a light wine without much “body,” and this kind of port
is consumed in the country districts of Portugal. The tipplers who could
consume three or four bottles of port, in the days of the Georges,
probably drank this light wine, which was imported new, and was not a
keeping wine. The prowess of our ancestors, “the six-bottle men,” has
been overrated. Old port cannot be drunk in such quantities. The export
trade in wine is enormous, and the chief trade is with England and the
United States. Besides port, Porto sends to foreign markets cattle,
mineral ores, fruits, and olive oil. The population of the city in 1900
was 167,950.

In his account of his travels in Portugal and Galicia, the Earl of
Carnarvon writes of the city, in 1848: “At length I reached Porto, an
ancient and very picturesque town; the streets with a few noble
exceptions, are narrow, and the houses high and ornamented with handsome
balconies. That part of the city which overhangs the Douro is strikingly
beautiful; the river itself is fine and clear, and the banks bold and
partially wooded.”

Since this was written new and wider thoroughfares have been made in
Porto. The city has been modernised in many respects, but it still
retains a savour of the eastern influence. Many of the houses are faced
with striped tiles, painted blue. These tiles, or ajuléjos, are one of
the staple manufactures of Portugal, and are Moorish in origin.

The cathedral, or the Sé, stands in a dominating position on the crest
of a hill. It is in the pointed Gothic style, built of granite. There is
an imposing tower, and a fine rose window. In the cloisters there are
interesting specimens of ajuléjo work, and highly ornamented pillars.
The mosaics represent “The Song of Solomon,” and are well worth

The cathedral is in the form of a cross, with a wide nave, and several
chapels. There is a marble floor. The interior is without any impressive
objects of art, and much of it is modern. Close to the Cathedral is the
Bishop’s Palace, with an interesting staircase.

Some of the churches of Porto are notable for their lavish internal
decoration. San Francisco dates from the early fifteenth century, and
has a rose window of great beauty. The wood carving within is very
interesting, and there is a gorgeous memorial to Pereira. The Bolsa is a
striking building close to this church. São Pedro is another old church
which should be seen. The Renaissance Church of the Convent of Nossa
Senhora de Serra do Pilar has beautiful cloisters, and a remarkable

The bridge is one of the wonders of Porto. It connects the banks of the
Douro with a single arch, over five hundred feet in length, and is
nearly as long as the Cernavoda Bridge across the Danube. At both ends
are towers. The bridge is immensely strong, and though of iron, elegant
in design. It is crossed by an upper and a lower roadway, and from the
higher road there is a magnificent view up and down the swirling river.

In the busiest part of the city is the space known as the Praça de Dom
Pedro from which several streets radiate. A modern city hall is on one
side. In the middle of the square is a bronze statue of Pedro IV. on
horseback, the work of Calmels. The Torre dos Clerigos, close to the
Praça, is a splendid outlook point, with a bird’s-eye view of the city,
the gorge of the Douro, and the shimmering Atlantic in the distance.

For a riotous wealth of flowers the visitor should see the Jardim da
Cordoaria. The grounds of the Crystal Palace are also very lovely. The
gardens are on the slopes descending to the Douro, and the mingling of
natural beauty with cultivation is charming. Nowhere have I seen such
splendid roses. The winding paths afford many delightful glimpses of the
river and the ocean.

One of the quaintest parts of Porto, where there are still many ancient
houses, is the Rua Cima do Muro. But in all the old quarters of the city
there are interesting streets and corners. The markets should be visited
by travellers interested in the customs of the people. They are bright
and animated on market days.

The Picture Gallery will disappoint the student who expects to see a
representative collection of Portuguese art. In the Largo de Viriato is
the Museum, endowed by Allen, an Englishman, and given to the city. The
pictures preserved here are not of much interest, except the few works
ascribed to Rubens and Van Dyck. There is a collection of natural
history specimens in the museum.

The public library has a large collection of volumes, numbering many
thousands, and is an excellent institution. It was founded by Pedro IV.
and stands on the site of a convent near the Garden of São Lázaro.

For art-work in gold, visit the Rua das Flores, the street of
goldsmiths. The windows contain highly interesting gold ornaments of
infinite variety of design, in filigree, and enamelled. Huge earrings,
worn by the women of the vineyards, are displayed here in lavish array.

A pleasant excursion may be made to São João da Foz, a favourite Sunday
and holiday resort of the Porto people in summer time. The road runs by
the Douro, and upon approaching the mouth of the river, the dangerous
bar will be seen. The seaside village, with the difficult name, has fine
sands and an interesting coast stretching northwards. The Atlantic
thunders along this shore in stormy weather, but the bathing is safe.

At Mattosinhos, to the north of Foz, there is a wonderful crucifix, said
to have been picked up from the sea after floating from the Holy Land.
It is an object of great veneration among the peasantry and

Another excursion may be made to Villa de Feira, where there is an
ancient castle.


  • The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan