Porto put the ‘Portu’ in ‘Portugal’. The name dates from Roman times, when Lusitanian settlements straddled both sides of the Douro’s banks. The area was briefly in the hands of Moors but was reconquered by AD 1000 and reorganised as the county of Portucale, with Porto as its capital. British-born Henri of Burgundy was granted the land in 1095, and it was from here that Henri’s son and Portuguese hero Afonso Henriques launched the Reconquista (Christian reconquest), ultimately winning Portugal its status as an independent kingdom.
In 1387 Dom João I married Philippa of Lancaster in Porto, and their most famous son, Henry the Navigator, was born here. While Henry’s explorers groped around Africa for a sea route to India, British wine merchants –forbidden to trade with the French – set up shop, and their presence continues to this day, evidenced in port-wine labels such as Taylor’s and Graham’s.
Over the following centuries Porto acquired a well-earned reputation for rebelliousness. In 1628 a mob of angry women attacked the minister responsible for a tax on linen. A ‘tipplers’ riot’ against the Marquês de Pombal’s regulation of the port-wine trade was savagely put down in 1757. And in 1808, as Napoleon’s troops occupied the city, Porto citizens arrested the French governor and set up their own, short-lived junta. After the British helped drive out the French, Porto radicals were at it again, leading calls for a new liberal constitution, which they got in 1822. Demonstrations in support of liberals continued to erupt in Porto throughout the 19th century.
Meanwhile, wine profits helped fund the city’s industrialisation, which began in earnest in the late 19th century, when elites in the rest of Portugal tended to see trade and manufacturing as vulgar. Today, the city remains the economic capital of northern Portugal and is surpassed only by much-larger Lisbon in terms of economic and social clout.