Porto History Facts and Timeline

(Porto, Portugal)

Few cities on the Iberian Peninsula have as colourful and rich a history as Porto, the second-biggest city in Portugal and one of Europe's oldest urban centres.

Known throughout the world for its famous port wine, this enchanting city along the Douro River began life as a Roman outpost. It has played host to a lively cast of monarchs and other characters during its 1,000 years of existence. Home to explorers and rebels, Porto is one of those cities made for a good story.

Roots in Trade

The city's unique location on the estuary of the Douro River in northern Portugal has made it an attraction spot for coastal and interior trade in this corner of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans gave Porto its name, Portus Cale, when they established a settlement here in the 4th century AD, in order to facilitate trade between Lisbon and Braga.

The Birth of Portugal

When the Moors swept over the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century AD, they only managed to keep control of Porto for a century or so before Portuguese count Vimara Peres reconquered the city and its surrounding area in the year of 868 AD. He established the county of Portucale, giving rise to the name and future nation of Portugal. In these early centuries of Porto's new history, the city served as the capital of Portucale.

Launching the Reconquista

In 1095, Henri of Burgundy, a nobleman from England, was given the land around the city of Porto and began fortifying the area. It was from Porto that Afonso Henriques, the son of Henri of Burgundy, launched the Reconquista (the Christian quest to take back the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors). Though it took many decades, the Moors were eventually evicted from the peninsula and Portugal was born as an independent kingdom.

A Great Alliance

The year of 1386 was a major milestone in the history of Porto. On that day, the historic pact between England and Portugal was born under the Treaty of Windsor, creating the world's longest-standing military alliance. The two kingdoms were further united the following year, when Portuguese King John I married Philippa of Lancaster. Their son was none-other than legendary Prince Henry the Navigator.

Exploration and Wine

As his name suggests, Henry the Navigator led Portugal's adventures to explore the unknown seas of the Atlantic. At the time, the realm's goal was to find a sea route to India by going around Africa. Shipbuilding boomed in Porto during the 14th and 15th centuries, as explorers launched their ships from the city and kicked off the Portuguese Age of Discovery.

Thanks to the strong Portuguese-English alliance, wine traders from Britain set up their first bases in Porto in the early 18th century. Since it was illegal at the time to buy wine from the French, Porto's famous port wine became the tipple of choice and kept the wine merchants in business. Port labels like Taylor's and Graham's, which were established at the time, are still popular today.

Industrialisation and Rebels

With the profits from selling Douro Valley port wine, the history of Porto was marked by a solid run of growth during the 18th and 19th centuries. Beautiful buildings such as the Torre dos Clérigos church were built in the city centre, which is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Local residents developed something of a rebellious streak during these centuries. From a brief coup against Napoleon's French governor during his occupation in 1808 to frequent protests calling for a liberal constitution that was granted in 1822, the locals of Porto fought for their rights. Today, the city remains northern Portugal's centre of commerce, as well as a popular travel destination.