When Bacchus and Lusus came to the Peninsula, sundered from Italy by the
Mediterranean Sea, they discovered a delightful region of mountains and
glens, well-watered and fertile, which they called Lusitania. Between
the rivers Minho and Douro is a glowing tract of country, not unlike the
finest parts of North Wales, with a varied sea coast, bright little
villages nestling among the hills, and well-tilled fields, vineyards,
and gay gardens. Mountains screen this district on the north and east,
and the vast Atlantic washes it on the west. Here is the chief
wine-growing quarter of Portugal, a land appropriately colonised by
Bacchus; and in the centre of the wine-making and exporting industry is
Porto, the capital of the province of Entre-Douro-e-Minho.
“Porto the Proud” is a very old city and seaport on the right bank of
the impetuous Douro, and within a few miles of the coast. The river is
tidal and broad, and big ships come to the busy quays below the great
suspension bridge. At the mouth of the Douro is a bar, much dreaded
by sailors, for it is rocky at this point, and generally a rough sea
breaks and foams at the outlet.
Porto is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I visited it in
June, when the terraces and gardens were aglow with flowers, the streets
steeped in perpetual sunshine, the sky a deep blue, and the sunsets
gorgeous. It is a bright city, seen from the opposite bank, with houses
rising one above the other on slopes that are almost precipitous. Here
and there the rock juts out among the villas that overhang the river,
while verdure shows on the high banks. In parts of the gorge the cliffs
rise to three hundred feet.
Porto is a city of squares. There are several of these open spaces, all
planted with trees, well-paved, and surrounded by tall buildings which
lend a Moorish atmosphere to the towns. It is a centre of craftsmen. In
one thoroughfare you will find harness-makers and hatters busily
employed; in another goldsmiths and jewellers ply their trade. The
markets are thronged with peasants from the vineyards, the women dressed
in the gaudiest garments, with huge earrings and great gold brooches.
Perhaps nowhere in Europe can so many prosperous and cheerful
country-folk be seen assembled as in the streets of Porto on a market
day. Ox carts come laden with barrels; the river is dotted with the
curiously shaped _barcos_ that bring the wine from the rustic presses
far up the valley; and up the steep alleys clamber the pannier-donkeys,
with fruit heaped in the baskets.
The yoked oxen, led by sedate men–with large sallow faces, their loose
limbs clothed in short jackets, and wearing the ancient hats of the
district–the mule carts and the pack-donkeys appear mediæval and
strangely out of accord with the modern motor cars of the fashionable
citizens. Porto is both old and new. Paris and London fashions in dress
may be seen in the shopping quarters. There is a large colony of English
people in the city, and many French and German merchants. Here you will
see a native of the hills in his national garb; there a lady clad in the
newest Parisian apparel; here an English sailor, and there a Spaniard.
All is movement, animation, colour, when the streets are gay and crowded
on a holiday.
The climate of Porto is pleasant and healthy. In the height of summer
the heat is tempered by breezes from the Atlantic, and from the
mountains on the east. There is a high average of sunshine. During the
winter there is a considerable rainfall, and occasional snow. Around the
city is a delightfully varied country of hills and valleys, watered by
clear streams, and highly cultivated in the straths. On the slopes are
roads of oak, chestnut, and birch. In the sheltered vales oranges, figs,
lemons, and many other fruits thrive excellently. Strawberries are large
in size and abundant. Vegetables grow with but little culture in this
fertile land, and there are flower gardens with an opulence of colour.
On the south bank of the Douro there was probably an early Roman
settlement. The Vandals swept down upon Lusitania when the power of the
Romans waned, and after them came other Teuton hordes–the Suevi and the
fierce Visigoths. About the middle of the eighth century the Moors
conquered Portugal, and held it for three centuries. The Asturians of
northern Spain appear to have reconquered this part of Portugal in the
time of Ferdinand I. of Castile. After the subduing of the Moors,
Alfonso I. was proclaimed king of Portugal. Until about 1380 the House
of Burgundy held the throne, and from that date the country rose in
power, and became commercially prosperous. John I. of Portugal married
the daughter of John of Gaunt, and became a staunch ally of England,
receiving the Order of the Garter.
This was a stirring period in the history of the country, a time of
strenuous warfare with Castile, and the last remnant of the Moors.
In the reign of Juan of Castile, Portugal became one of the chief
exploring nations of Europe. Henry, third son of the king, was studious,
and learned in astronomy and geography. He obtained royal subsidies, and
gathered about him travellers and seamen whom he inspired to set forth
on voyages of discovery. Two vessels were sent by the prince to round
the southernmost point of Africa, with the object of reaching the East
Indies. In 1418 the voyagers discovered Madeira, which was made a
Portuguese settlement; but they dreaded the rounding of the south Cape
of Africa, a point greatly dreaded by all mariners in those days. The
Canary Islands passed at this time into the hands of a French
adventurer, De Bethancourt, whose heirs afterwards sold the colony to
Henry of Portugal.
Vasco de Gama’s famous expedition to India was undertaken in 1497, and
this bold explorer, unlike his predecessors, doubled the Cape of Good
Hope, and travelled as far as Mozambique, where he found pilots who
offered to direct his course to India. The pilots, however, proved
treacherous. Eventually, after many delays, a trustworthy pilot was
found at Melinda, and De Gama reached India, where he opened trading
relations with the natives. At the end of two years the discoverer
returned to Portugal and was received with great honour.