The second-largest city in Portugal, Porto — also known as Oporto — is fast-becoming one of the country’s hottest destinations. Famed for its picture-perfect UNESCO-listed historical centre, world-class wines and captivating coastal walks, thousands of tourists flock here every month. Interested in finding out more about this enchanting city? From peculiar nicknames to French dishes, here are a few interesting facts about Porto.
Interesting facts about Porto
1. Portugal was named after Porto
Porto was originally known as “Portus Calle”, though historians disagree about where the name came from. Some say that it comes from the Greek word for beautiful (kallis), others say it comes from the Latin for “warm port”, while many claim it’s a Celtic word for “port”. Regardless, “Portus Cale” eventually evolved into Portucale, which became Portugal.
For context, the Celts first established the city on the mouth of the Duoro River, then the Romans occupied it from the fourth century. Theodoric II, King of the Visigoths, invaded it in 456 AD and remained in power until the Moorish invasion in 716 AD. Alfonso III of Asturias conquered Portus Cale in 868 AD and Portugal finally emerged as a unified political entity. In 1096 AD, Porto became the capital of the country.
2. Porto has a fascinating nickname
Porto’s nickname is “Invicta”, which means invincible. Influenced by the revolutions taking place across Europe, the Liberal Revolution broke out in Porto in 1820. The revolutionaries demanded the return of John VI of Portugal, who had fled to Brazil during the French invasion. In 1822, they agreed to a liberal constitution. But when Miguel of Portugal took the throne in 1828, he rejected the constitution and reigned as an absolute monarch. This sparked a civil war, that saw Porto undergo a siege of eighteen months between 1832 and 1833. Eventually, King Miguel abdicated and Porto became known as “Cidade Invicta” thanks to its resistance.
3. Porto is famous for its wine
Port is probably the world’s favourite sweet wine. It comes from the Duoro Valley but it takes its name from the city of Porto. The wine ages in Porto and is then shipped across the world. There are dozens of port wine cellars dotted around the city and no trip to Porto would be complete without visiting one.
4. Porto is home to one of the world’s largest street festivals
Like most cities, Porto celebrates its patron saint. The night of St. John, or São João, is one of the highlights of the year. It’s also one of the longest nights in the year. It takes place from 23rd until the 24th June, and thousands of visitors flock to the city every year to enjoy the special occasion. The whole city transforms, with streets brimming with people, barbecue sardines and entertainment. It’s also traditional to eat “caldo verde” (a shredded green cabbage soup), lamb and roasted pepper salad, St John’s cake, and several glasses of good port.
5. One of Porto’s most famous dishes is actually French
The Francesinha is one of Porto’s signature dishes. The Portuguese sandwich consists of bread, cured ham and linguiça, chipolata, steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot and thick spiced tomato and beer sauce. It usually comes with a good helping of french fries too.
Despite being one of the city’s most famous dishes, it’s a relatively modern creation. According to local lore, a Portuguese man called Daniel Silva developed the dish while living in France in the 1950s. Inspired by the French Croque Monsieur, he modified the dish when he returned to Porto to include local ingredients and served it at the Regaleira restaurant. It’s now one of the country’s most beloved dishes.
6. Porto is home to one of Europe’s largest synagogues
The Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue is the largest Synagogue in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the largest in Europe. Located in the heart of the Jewish Community of Porto, it’s open for individual and group visits throughout the year. The synagogue was funded by donations from Jewish people across the world and was inaugurated in 1938.
While Porto is predominantly Christian, it’s home to a large Jewish community too. Captain Barros Basto famously founded the Jewish community in 1923. During the late 15th century, the Sephardic Jews of Portugal were ordered to be baptized by the King. But, they continued to observe the essential rituals of Judaism and maintained their Marrano (secret). Captain Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto, a decorated Portuguese WW1 veteran, began a quasi-messianic movement in northern Portugal to “out” Marranos and bring them back to normative Judaism. His grandfather had announced on his deathbed that he wished to die as a Jew and he honoured this for the rest of his life.
7. People from Porto have a strange nickname too
People from Porto are often nicknamed “Tripeiros” after a local famous dish, “Tripas à Moda do Porto”. How did they get the nickname? No one can quite agree how but there are some good stories about it. One of the best stories dates back to the 15th century. Infante D. Henrique’s armada needed supplies for its Conquest of Ceuta and the citizens of Porto offered them all the meat they had. Only the tripe remained. From these tripe leftovers, they created the popular dish. It might not sound like much, but it’s delicious. The signature dish consists of veal tripe, white beans, smoked ham and pork sausage, pork or calf knuckles, carrots, onions, various spices such as paprika and cumin, and different cuts of pork and chicken.