If Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, it was the city of Porto that gave origin to the name pf the country. The approximately 300 kilometres separating the two major portuguese cities have History and unique stories which distinctively define the character of each city. Find out more about the origin of both of them.
It is said that people in Porto work while people in Lisbon have fun. This alone would be enough to define each city, but the truth is that both cities work hard to assure that visitors have a lot of fun.
Among streets brimming with charm, restaurants serving quality food, culture offers to suit every taste and places of entertainment, Lisbon and Porto share the same historical genesis which have, simultaneously, transformed them in complementary cities.
A trip to Portugal without visiting these two cities will never be a complete trip. Lisbon, the capital, is above all one of the oldest cities in the world.
Having around 1,200 years of existence before Christ, only Athens, in Greece, is the oldest of the capitals in Europe. The origin of the name, for example, was lost in time, and it was necessary to make up tales or speculate about the actual origin of the name “Lisboa” (Lisbon). One of those tales mentions the Old Testament.
It is said that Elishah, great-grandson of Noah, arrived here 278 years after the great flood. Elishah would have navigated from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, where he founded a city today called Lisbon, being that the origin of the toponym.
But the story that you will most likely hear in the streets of the city is the one mentioning Ulysses, the king of Ithaca and a Greek mythological hero, protagonist of Homer’s “Odyssey”. It is said that, after the destruction of the city of Troy, Ulysses would have visited a city then known as Ophiussa, the “Land of Serpents”. It was there that the queen of the serpents lived, representing seduction and danger at the same time. Anyone who dared to enter those lands was seduced and vanished forever. When the traveller arrived, coming from the ocean he navigated down the Tagus River and met Queen Ophiussa, who quickly fell in love with the Greek hero. The queen seduced him with the proposal of creating the most beautiful city in the Universe which would have his name: Ulyssippo or Olisipo. But Ulysses didn’t want to stay and left under the cloak of night. When the queen found out that she had been abandoned, she meandered furious through the river making the earth shake. It is said that this was how the seven hills of Lisbon took shape.
Presently, there is a modern tiles panel – dated from 1996 – by the symbolist Portuguese artist, Lima de Freitas, evoking that tale. It can be admired at the gallery connecting the Rossio train station to the underground station of Restauradores.
But, tales apart, the most logical version supports that the name of the Portuguese capital originates from the Phoenician presence. Being a people of salesmen and merchants coming from the Mediterranean, they entered the Atlantic through the Strait of Gibraltar and went up North along the coast. There, they arrived at a river mouth where, after navigating through a zone where the banks were closer, they found a huge estuary. Today it is known as Straw Sea (“Mar da Palha”), the wider estuary in Europe, featuring Vasco da Gama Bridge which, with its twelve kilometres, is the longest bridge in Europe. On the North bank of the river there is a high hill housing S. Jorge Castle.
From the top of the hill one can contemplate a wide landscape which allowed assuring the safety of the first inhabitants as they could anticipate the movements of the enemies. On the South slope of the hill, down the river, there was potable water. Later, the Moorish called it Alfama based on the thermal waters. The Phoenician called this place “Alis Ubbo”, meaning “Safe Harbour” or “Balmy Cove”. This is our Lisbon today.
After the Phoenician came the Romans. And there still are remains of that period. Visitors can see the ruins of the Roman Theatre at Rua da Saudade. The Lisbon Cathedral itself from the 13th century has Roman remains and, in the downtown undergrounds, there are also remains from the Roman period.
In Rua Augusta, for example, the Millennium Foundation is open to the public for visits to its foundations featuring more examples of the Roman Empire.
The Rossio Square still exhibits an oval shape as it served as a horse race-track. Lisbon was then a thriving city and an important commercial hub supplying the Roman troops between Rome and Great-Britain. It received the name of “Felicitas Julia Olissipus”, the happiness of Julius Caesar.
But Portugal still didn’t exist with this name. It was called Lusitania and belonged to Iberia, still encompassing part of the current Spanish territory. The citizens were known as the Lusitanian.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula, between 418 and 711 of our era, was called the Kingdom of the Visigoths. This lasted until the last Visigoth King, Ruderic, was defeated by the Muslim general Tarik, in the Battle of Guadalete, near Cadiz, on July 31 in 711. The Muslim occupation lasted until the 13th Century, when Afonso Henri – ques entered History ending up to be the first king of Portugal. He was born on July 25, 1109, in the city of Guimarães, located in the North of Portugal. Afonso Henriques was the son of Henry of Burgundy – Count of Portucale – whose name came from “Portus Cale”, today the city of Porto.
The father of the one that ended up to be the first king of Portugal, came from noble lineage as he descended from Robert II of France who, in turn, descended from the King of the Francs, Hugh Capet. The mother of Afonso I of Portugal, Theresa, Countess of Portugal, was the illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile. The official origin of the name of Portugal lies here, in the old “Portus Cale”, and is still today the only city in the world that is called only Porto without any other qualifier. It is just Porto and that’s it.
It was in the year of 1139 that Afonso I of Portugal, after winning the Battle of Ourique, on July 25, day of his anniversary and also Day of Santiago, made himself a knight on his own. Four years later, on October 5, 1143, Afonso I of Portugal signed with his cousin, Afonso VII of León and Castile, the Treaty of Zamora, which established the permanent independence of the new country.
And finally, four years later, in October 1147, the King of Portugal arrived at the doors of Lisbon, still occupied by the Moorish. The conquer of Lisbon had the help of the English, Scottish, Flemish, Normans and German crusades, who on their way to Jerusalem had stopped in Porto due to bad weather.
As time passed, due to its strategical location right in the middle of Portugal, mastering the Atlantic and benefiting from natural conditions for trading and receiving big ships, Lisbon becomes an increasingly more important city, mainly with the beginning of the Portuguese maritime expansion in the 16th century.
With Lisbon as the capital, Porto is seen as the second city of the country and capital of the North. But it was still in the beginning of the 19th century that Porto received the additional title “Invicta” for having resisted to the siege following the 1832/34 civil war.
There is an assumed historical rivalry between Lisbon and Porto. As we have seen, it has long time foundations. However, it has a positive side, as both cities compete to please the visitors. Therefore, thanks to this rivalry, they are always innovating, and the entire world ends up benefiting and enjoying Lisbon and Porto!