1902 Encyclopedia > Oporto, Portugal


OPORTO (i.e., O Porto, The Port), the second city of the Kingdom of Portugal, the capital of Entre Douro e Minho, the best-cultivated and the most fruitful province of the country, is situated on both banks of the Douro, about 3 miles from its mouth, in 41° 9´N. lat. and 8° 37´ W. long. The part south of the Douro is known as Villa Nova da Gaia. The mouth of the river is obstructed by a very dangerous shifting sandbank, protected by a light house and a castle situated in the village of São João da Foz, which, along with Campanha, Paranhos, and Sordello, completes the suburbs. The population of the city is 80,295, and with the suburbs 108,346.

Oporto and Mouth of Douro Map

Map of Oporto and the Mouth of the Douro.
Date: circa 1884.

The view of the town from the river is singularly attractive and quaint. It possesses many buildings of interest, and picturesque thoroughfares, which however, from the situation of the city, are very steep and irregular. The principal edifices are the cathedral and the archbishop’s palace -- the latter, containing a fine staircase, conspicuously situated on a high rock -- and the Torre dos Clerigos, a granite tower 210 feet high, built in 1748, commanding a splendid view, and visible at sea a long way off. The English factory (built in 1790), including a library, reading-room, and ballroom, is one of the largest building, while the exchange (once the monastery of S. Francisco) is perhaps the finest and most elaborately decorated structure in the country. The walls and floor of the hall are entirely covered with beautiful inlaid devices in polished native-coloured woods of all hues brought from the virgin forests of the Brazils. The museum, the public library, containing over 80,000 volumes, the barracks, the Da Miseracordia Hospital, and the opera-house are the other most important public buildings. The Rua Nova dos Inglezes is the most frequented street, and the Rua das Flores is one of the most interesting from the rich display of gold-work, for which the town is famous both in its shop windows as well as -- more characteristically and attractivity -- on the persons of the fishwomen in their everyday garb. The Praça de de San Ovidio, situated on the heights, and laid out in terraces of flowers, deserves a visit from the traveler, while the Largo da Torre da Marva is interesting as standing in the site of the ancient Cale, from which the kingdom derives its name (Porto Cale). The chapel of Cedo Feita, said to hae been founded in 559 by the Visigothic king Theodomir (but much more probably not till the 12th century), is very curious ; the church of Nossa Senhora de Lapa, a well-known landmark, is a handsome Corinthian edifice. The city at one time had no less than 80 monasteries and chapels. The English community maintain a chaplain and a doctor, and have a cemetery for their own dead. Railways run from Oporto to Lisbon, and up the valley of the Douro to Pezo da Regoa, and recently a junction has been made with the line through Spain to Paris, whereby the long journey from Lisbon to that capital via Madrid is vastly shortened ; a branch also runs to the frontier town of Valença on the Minho. Oporto possesses good schools, a medical college with numerous chairs, and a botanical garden. Several newspapers appears daily.

The industries of Oporto are the most important and numerous in the kingdom, employing about 6000 hands, the chief being paper, linen, wool, cotton, silk, and good manusfactures, brocade, lace, glove, button, and pottery making. Oporto is chiefly famous for the export of the wine bears its name, of which the great storehouses are on the south side of the river. The vines from which it is made grow on the Alto Douro, a hilly and precipitous region lying about 60 miles up the river, and having an area 27 miles in length by 5 or 6 in breadth, cut off from the sea, and shut in from the north-east by a range of mountains. The trade was established in 1678, but the shipments for some years did not exceed 600 pipes (of 115 gallons each). In 1703 Lord Methven made a treaty with Portugal, under which Portuguese wines were admitted on easier terms those of Gascony, and henceforward "port" began to be drunk. In 1747 the export reached 17,000 pipes. In 1754 the great wine monopoly company of Oporto originated, under which the shipments rose to 33,000 pipes. At the beginning of the present century the policy of the Government more and favoured port wine, beside which the vintages from 1815 were splendid both in Portugal and in Madeira, -- that of 1815 has, never been excelled. For the next few year the grape crop was not at all good, but the 1820 vintage was the most remarkable of any. It was singularly sweet and black, besides being equal in quality to that of 1815. This henceforth became the standard taste and colour for true port, and to keep up the vintage of following years to this exceptional standard adulteration by elder-berries, syrup, and jeropiga was resorted to. This practice did not long continue, for it was cheaper to adulterate the best wines with inferior sorts of port wine itself. There is scarcely a Portuguese wine, says Crawfurd, in skilful and intelligent hands not capable of being made both sound and palatable without recourse to any sort of adulteration. Port is now one of the purest wines. In 1852 the Oidium which spread over Europe destroyed most of the Portuguese vineyards. 1867 the second monopoly company was abolished, and since then the exports have been increasing till 1877, when the amount shipped was 61, 278 pipes, of which England absorbed 38, 898. Since 1863 the total exported has been 732,171 pipes (521,531 to England). In England port is adulterated with the red Spanish wine of Tarragona, which is a true wine, but procurable at half the cost of the cheapest port. The port wine duties are, however, not oppressive, and, though the Phylloxera has produced great ravages, the trade is still every prosperous. Brand wines are those made of different vintages blended together ; "vintage" is a wine blended by nature herself, and is of rare occurrence.

Besides wine Oporto exports orange (228,000,000 in 1878), onions, shipped as of Spanish growth, and varying vastly in amount according to the season, and olives go to (which go to Brazil alone, although they are cheaper and finer-flavoured when truly ripe than those of any other country). An important trade is done in live cattle. Portugal is one of the few countries never visited by the cattle plague. They are sent to England as fat cattle, and are said to yield the finest grass-fed beef admitted into the country. About 15,000 head were imported in 1878. Feijões or horicot (mostly the back, feijão prêt) form a considerable item of export to Brazil : 975,000 kilos were shipped in 1877. They are identical with those from Sorrento, and are a little dearer, but of a distinctly finer quality. Cork and sumach are also among the exports. The imports are numerous : codfish (bacalhão), a national dish, in immense quantities, as well as coals and ore, are brought from Newfoundland, and cottons and yarns from Great Britain (mostly), France, and Holland. Iron and steel goods were in 1877 imported from England to the amount of 7,000,000 kilos, paying a 5 per cent. ad valerem duty ; in 1878, however, Sweden and Norway entered strongly into competition. Coal is also imported from England, and costs the consumer in Oporto twice its cost there. In 1878 of 215 steamers which entered Oporto (no vessel, owing to the dangerous bar, comes into this port to call simply) 153 were British.

History. -- The history of Oporto dates from an early period. Before the Roman invasion, under the name of Gaia, or Cago, it was a town with a good trade ; the Alani subsequently founded a city on the opposite or northern bank, calling it Castrum Novum. About 540 A.D. the Goths under Leovogild obtained possession of the northern district, who yielded place in 716 to the Moors under Abdul Hassan, who then conquered the whole of that region. The Christians, however, again gained possession by the overthrow of the Moors, when it became the key of their position for the long period during which the latter held sway in the southern provinces of Portugal. The Moors once became its masters for a short period, till in 1092 it was brought by Dom Alfonso Frederico finally under Christian domination. The town is renowned also in English military annals from the duke Wellington’s famous passage of the Douro in its immediate neighbourhood; close to where the fine bridge of the northern railway now spans the river, by which he surprised and put to flight Soult’s army, capturing the city on the 11th May 1809. It sustained a severe in 1833 during the civil war headed by Dom Miguel, and was bravely defended by Dom Pedro with 7500 men, but with the loss of 16,000 of its inhabitants.

See Commercial Reports for 1878-79 ; Report of Wine Committee of House of Commons 1879 ; Crawfurd, Portugal, Old, and New, 1872. (H. O. F.)

The above article was written by: Dr. Henry O. Forbes, LL.D., F.R.G.S., Director of Museums, Liverpool; author of A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago; etc.

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