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

Northern region
N41 8 30 W8 37 0
Date of Inscription: 1996
Criteria: (iv)
Ref: 755

The city of 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.

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.

Suggested Bases:

Porto is Portugal’s second largest city and the capital of the Northern region. Porto is a busy industrial and commercial centre. The city itself isn’t very populous (about 300,000 inhabitants), but the Porto metropolitan area (Greater Porto) has some 2,500,000 inhabitants in a 50km radius, with cities like Gaia, Matosinhos, Maia, and Gondomar. The city was built along the hills overlooking the Douro river estuary, and its historical center was awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1996. It has been continuously inhabited since at least the 4th Century, when the Romans referred to it as Portus Calle Porto has a semi-Mediterranean climate, although it’s strongly affected by the Atlantic ocean, which makes it cooler than other cities with this climate. However, temperatures can rise as high as 40ºC in August during occasional heat waves. [read more]

Vila Nova De Gaia is a city in Oporto (Porto) district of Northern Portugal. It is home of cellars of port wine, several shopping centers and some of the best beaches. Perhaps the most famous tourist attraction in Gaia are the Port Wine Cellars, warehouses where the famous Port wine is stored. The Cellars are placed in Ribeira de Gaia, an area of the city located in the bank of River Douro opposite Porto. Ribeira de Gaia has also some typical and international restaurants, particularly in Cais de Gaia. Even if you are not in visiting the cellars, you should visit Ribeira the Gaia in order to get some amazing views of Porto. Small Nature Reserve for the Protection of Birds, (Begin at the base of the Dom Luis I bridge and head down river about 5.3 km. The journey is easy but not particularly interesting). [read more]

Braga is a city in the Cávado Valley of Northern Portugal. It is the fifth largest city in Portugal after Lisbon, Porto, Amadora and Vila Nova de Gaia. It is an ancient and modern city and one of the most important Archdiocese. Braga has a university is called the Universidade do Minho, and it is around 30 years old. It has a medium size campus area with lots of bars and cheap restaurants around it. There are lots of places to visit in Braga. The historic city center, with the cathedral and other churches, museums and traditional shops. The cathedral is almost 1000 years old, and while in there you can have a guided tour to its treasure. You can also visit the beautiful Braga Municipal Stadium, used for the 2004 European Football Championships held in Portugal. [read more]

11 replies »

  1. It’s the people that makes Porto special. There’s all that history, but above all it’s the people here, they are so welcoming.


  2. 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.


  3. 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.


  4. 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.


  5. 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.


  6. 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!


  7. The impressive Dom Luís I Bridge is a Porto landmark, connecting Porto’s city centre in the North to Vila Nova de Gaia in the South. With construction starting in 1879, this double-deck metal bridge is of historical significance. Ways of crossing Dom Luís I Bridge include by car, foot and tram. We recommend taking a stroll upon its upper deck where there are some awesome 360-degree views to be had.


  8. Walking around the streets of the Ribeira district made me feel like being inside a painting. Filled with colourful houses, bars, restaurants, and shops, Ribeira represents the riverside area of Porto. Don’t forget to walk around its backstreets and maybe find some time to indulge yourself with a short river cruise.


  9. Many of the city’s architectural treasures are free to enjoy. Sao Bento Railway Station, Igreja do Carmo, and Church of Saint Ildefonso (among others) are notable for their stunning blue-and-white tile murals. Narrow streets are lined with colorful apartment buildings stacked up like Legos. Decorative Art Nouveau facades add an air of whimsy beside stolid Gothic church spires. Even derelict structures add charm, particularly those covered in street art. Porto’s many attractions are spread across steep hills, but easy to access thanks to efficient tram service. Take a ride in one of the vintage cars and feel yourself transported back to the turn of the 19th century.


  10. There was something quite special about this city. When I climbed to the top of the hill where the Cathedral is located and overlooked the red roofs of the old crumbling buildings, I instantly felt there are few sides to Porto; The Porto of the top-level, with the old churches and the bell towers and the one of the low-level, with the residential colorful buildings.

    Although it is not an island, walking along the Riberia of Porto, which is one of the oldest parts of the city, might give you the feeling you are on one. The river front and the dotted ships on the Douro river are really close. Porto DOES have all the right ingredients for a perfect long weekend or a short vacation in Europe; Its gastronomy is a mirror of its cultural diversity and there are a lot of great chefs’ oriented restaurants in the city.


  11. Whether gazing towards the heavens on a riverfront stroll, taking late-afternoon photos from the water and across the river on Vila Nova de Gaia’s promenade, or winding your way up a medieval alleyways with their shops, bars and residential doorways, you’ll be enchanted by the colours of Porto’s Old Town.

    The palette of vibrant hues stretches from traders’ riverside homes and the barcos rabelos moored beside the Praca de Ribeira to the grand buildings of the sloping Avenida dos Aliados and the “Shopping Central” pedestrian mall on Rua Santa Catarina to the breadth of colourful blooms in the Crystal Palace Gardens.

    Streets such as Galeria de Paris and its parallel Candido Reis (also known for their nightlife) offer up intriguing vintage clothing and old records, handmade souvenirs and other curiosities. A trip up Torre dos Clerigos – the bell tower adjoining the 18th century Clerigos Church – in the Carmo neighborhood and visit to the gothic twin-towered Se Cathedral are both highly recommended.

    A walk around the Crystal Palace gardens offers a welcome break from the tourist mecca below and the late afternoon photo opportunities are spectacular. While the Crystal Palace is long gone ( torn down in 1956), the domed sport, entertainment and events centre remains a drawcard.

    It was gearing up for a pop concert on the day we visited so the sound check provided a musical backdrop to our stroll. The flowers in summer bloom, regal peacock inhabitants and expansive views of the Douro was worth an hour-long sidetrack before heading down through the spider’s web of suburban Porto alleyways back to the riverfront for a short stroll back to our accommodation.


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