Historic Centre of Porto

Porto, Portugal

The city of Porto (Oporto), built along the hillsides overlooking the mouth of the Douro river, is an outstanding urban landscape with a 2,000-year history. Its continuous growth, linked to the sea (the Romans gave it the name Portus, or port), can be seen in the many and varied monuments, from the cathedral with its Romanesque choir, to the neoclassical Stock Exchange and the typically Portuguese Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara.

Archaeological excavations have revealed human occupation at the mouth of the Douro River since the 8th century BC, when there was a Phoenician trading settlement there. By the 5th century the town had become a very important administrative and trading centre. In the succeeding centuries it was subjected to attacks and pillage by successive groups, including Swabians, Visigoths, Normans, and Moors. By the early 11th century, however, it was firmly established as part of the Castilian realm. Expansion came in the 14th century with the construction of massive stone town walls to protect its two urban nuclei: the original medieval town and the hitherto extramural harbour area. The Historic Centre of Oporto is located within the line of these Fernandine walls (named after Dom Fernando, in whose reign they were completed in 1376), together with some smaller areas that retain their medieval characteristics. This area conserves to a large extent Oporto’s medieval town plan and urban fabric, along with some later monumental insertions as well as the two remaining sections of the Fernandine walls.

In this area are many important ecclesiastical buildings such as the cathedral – whose Romanesque core dates to the 12th century – and fine churches in various styles. The historic centre also has a number of outstanding public buildings, including the São João theatre (1796-1798; 1911-1918) and the former prison “Cadeia da Relação” (1765-1796). Among the important later structures are Palácio da Bolsa (1842-1910) and São Bento railway station (1900-1916). This rich and varied architecture eloquently expresses the cultural values of succeeding periods – Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, neoclassical, and modern. The active social and institutional tissue of the town ensures its survival as a living historic centre.

The historical centre was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. 

 

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Founded: 5th century AD
Category: Historic city squares, old towns and villages in Portugal

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The choir of the two-aisle grey granite church features medieval murals and frescoes. The white steeple of the church was built in 1816 and has served as a landmark for seafarers.