Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar

Oporto, located along the Douro river (Abhijeet Rane/Flickr, CC BY 2.0).
Northern region
N41 8 30 W8 37 0
Date of Inscription: 1996
Criteria: (iv)
Ref: 755
Luiz I Bridge (Rossana Ferreira/Flickr, CC BY 2.0).

The Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar, built along the hills overlooking the mouth of the Douro River in northern Portugal, is an outstanding urban landscape with a 2,000-year history. The Romans gave it the name Portus, or port, in the 1st century BC. Military, commercial, agricultural, and demographic interests came together in this place. Its continuous growth linked to the sea can be seen in its 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. The urban fabric of the Historic Centre of Oporto and its many historic buildings bear remarkable testimony to the development over the past thousand years of a European city that looks outward to the sea for its cultural and commercial links.

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. This property also includes Luíz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar.

Criterion (iv): The Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar with its urban fabric and its many historic buildings bears remarkable testimony to the development over the past thousand years of a European city that looks outward to the sea for its cultural and commercial links.



6 Replies to “Historic Centre of Oporto, Luiz I Bridge and Monastery of Serra do Pilar”

  1. I love the bridges, especially Ponte Dom Luís I, which has two levels, one down below, the other way up above. I really like it here. Porto is small and compact, you can walk or bike everywhere. The food is good, people are friendly. I’m here to stay.


  2. Ribeira has those old taverns, a culture of tradition, that’s characteristic of an old people. It’s got good restaurants and then there’s the river, the most beautiful part of our River Douro.


  3. There is a miradouro, at the end of the rua São Bento da Vitoria in the center of what was once the old Jewish quarter. It’s a very old street and when you get to the end, there’s a lookout with the most gorgeous, gorgeous, special view of the old townhouses of Porto tumbling down to the riverside. From that one vantage point you can see the river, the wine houses, the barcos rabelos, and if you look to the left, you can see the cathedral and the upper town of Porto.

    It’s a view that takes everybody’s breath away. And the thing that is amazing about it, and that only could exist in Porto, is that nobody has fixed it up, it’s a mess. The building next to is completely falling apart. It’s not paved, there’s garbage in certain place. That sounds awful, but it’s very Porto. You still find these secret places that are absolutely extraordinarily beautiful that no one has bothered prettying up.


  4. The first hours of my stay in Porto left me a great impression of the city. I could admire the beauty of the city and its amazing bridges from the train or from the nice terrace where I ended up first before catching another bus to Lisbon.


  5. I strongly recommend Porto as a fabulous city for a short break. I lived there for 5 years in the 80’s and went back a few years ago to find it had hardly changed (apart from a ghastly MacDonald’s in the city centre). Traditional Portuguese food is filling, tasty and all natural, and Porto has excellent restaurants with a strong emphasis on fish. There are the port wine caves to visit and the beautiful “Solar do Vinho do Porto” port wine lounge overlooking the Douro where you can watch the sun go down in style. Wine buffs get to try outstanding local wines that never make it out of Portugal, and at very reasonable prices, and the many varieties of cheese and sausages are well worth sampling – especially the “Queijo fresco”- fresh white cheese, and the many types of goat and sheep’s cheeses. Portugal has a sizeable Brit population and has even adopted some of our traditional habits, such as tea at 4pm (toast and butter -“torrada”, cups of tea, and has added an interesting snack of cheese eaten with a slice of quince jam -“mermelada”-). Most young people speak good English and the Portuguese are helpful and friendly. Porto is a safe city with a great nightlife- many bars and restaurants, and people walking the streets at all hours. The hilly terrain means you can walk off all the bread, potatoes, cheese and sausage! It’s easy to hire a car and explore the surrounding countryside, or take a boat trip up the Rio Douro into the picturesque interior. Best months- May, June, September and October (July and August are very hot, winter and early spring are cold and wet and hotels and houses often have little or no heating and cold tile floors). June sees the festival of Sao Joao – where people go around hitting each other with bulbs of young garlic, and there are fresh sardine BBQs in the streets. Go for it!


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