Porto, Portugal

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Places We Visit in Portugal

PORTO

Porto, also known as Oporto in English, is the second-largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. This major Southern Europe urban area has a population of 1.3 million making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. The Porto Metropolitan Area includes approximately 1.7 million people. It is recognized as a Gamma- level global city by the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) Study Group, being one of five cities on the Iberian Peninsula with global city status, (the others being Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon and Valencia).

Located along the Douro river estuary in northern Portugal, Porto is one of the oldest European centers, and registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996. Its settlement dates back many centuries, when it was an outpost of the Roman Empire.

The World Heritage Site is defined in two concentric zones; the “Protected area,” and within it the “Classified area.” The Classified area comprises the medieval borough located inside the 14th century Romanesque wall.

Among the architectural highlights of the city, Porto Cathedral is the oldest surviving structure, together with the small romanesque Church of Cedofeita, the gothic Church of Saint Francis (Igreja de São Francisco), the remnants of the city walls and a few 15th century houses. The baroque style is well represented in the city in the elaborate gilt work interior decoration of the churches of St. Francis and St. Claire (Santa Clara), the churches of Mercy (Misericórida) and of the Clerics (Igreja dos Clérigos), the Episcopal Palace of Porto and others. The neoclassicism and romanticism of the 19th and 20th centuries also added interesting monuments to the landscape of the city, like the magnificent Stock Exchange Palace (Palácio da Bolsa), the Hospital of Saint Anthony, the Municipality, the buildings in the Liberdade Square and the Avenida dos Aliados, the tile-adorned São Bento Train Station and the gardens of the Crystal Palace (Palácio de Cristal).

THE DOURO RIVER

The Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, flowing from its source near Duruelo de la Sierra in Soria Province across northern-central Spain and Portugal to its outlet at Porto.

The Douro vinhateiro, an area of the Douro Valley in Portugal, has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Traditionally, the wine was taken down river in flat-bottom boats called rabelos to be stored in barrels in cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from Porto. In the 1950s and 1960s, dams were built along the river ending this river traffic on Spanish and border sections. Now port wine is transported in tanker trucks. The Douro is the third longest river in the Iberian Peninsula after the Tagus and Ebro; its total length is 557 miles, of which only sections of the Portuguese extension are navigable by light river craft.

In its Spanish section, the Douro crosses the great Castilian meseta and meanders through five provinces of the autonomous community of Castile and León: Soria, Burgos, Valladolid, Zamora, and Salamanca, passing through the towns of Soria, Almazán, Aranda de Duero, Tordesillas, and Zamora.

In this region, there are few tributaries of the Douro. The most important are the Pisuerga, passing through Valladolid, and the Esla, which passes through Zamora. This region is generally semi-arid plains, with wheat and in some places, especially near Aranda de Duero, with vineyards, in the Ribera del Duero wine region. Sheep rearing is also still important.

For 70 miles the river forms part of the national border line between Spain and Portugal, in a region of narrow canyons, making it a historical barrier for invasions and a cultural/linguistic divide. In these isolated areas, in which the Aldeadávila Dam impounds the river, there are protected areas: the International Douro Natural Park (on the Portuguese side) and the Arribes del Duero Natural Park (on the Zamoran margin).

The Douro fully enters Portuguese territory just after the confluence with the Águeda River; once the Douro enters Portugal, major population centers are less frequent. Except for Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia at the river mouth, the only population centers of any note are Foz do Tua, Pinhão and Peso da Régua. Tributaries here are small, merging into the Douro along the canyons; the most important are Côa, Tua, Sabor, Corgo, Tavora, Paiva, Tâmega, and Sousa. None of these small, fast flowing rivers are navigable.

Major Spanish riverside towns include Soria, Almazán, Aranda de Duero, Tordesillas, Zamora and major Portuguese towns include Miranda do Douro, Foz Côa, Peso da Régua, Lamego, Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto. The most populous cities along the Douro River are Valladolid, Zamora in Spain and Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal. The latter two are located at the mouth of the Douro.

In Portugal, the Douro flows through the districts of Bragança, Guarda, Viseu, Vila Real, Aveiro and Porto. Porto is the main hub city in northern Portugal and its historic center is declared as a UNESCO monumental place.

These reaches of the Douro have a microclimate allowing for the cultivation of olives, almonds and grapes, especially those used in the production of the region’s famous port wine. The area around Pinhão and São João da Pesqueira is considered to be the center of port wine, with its quintas (or farms/estates) that extend the almost vertical slopes along the river valleys. Many of these quintas are owned by multinational wine companies. Recently, a prosperous tourist industry has developed based on river excursions from Porto to points along the Upper Douro valley.

There are five dams on the Portuguese Douro alone functioning to make the flow of water uniform, generate hydroelectric power, and allow navigation. Ships with a maximum length of 272 feet and width of 37 feet can pass through five locks. The highest one on Carrapatelo Dam has a maximum lift of 115 feet.

The Douro railway line (Linha do Douro), completed in 1887, connects Porto, Rio Tinto, Ermesinde, Valongo, Paredes, Penafiel, Livração, Marco de Canaveses, Régua, Tua and Pocinho. Pocinho is near the city of Foz Côa, which is close to Côa Valley Paleolithic Art site (an archaeological pre-historic patrimony), another UNESCO heritage site.

DOURO INTERNATIONAL NATURAL PARK (DINP)

The International Douro Natural Park is one of 13 natural parks in Portugal. It is located in the northwestern municipalities of Portugal, spanning through a wide area along the Douro River as it makes the border between Portugal and Spain (hence “International Douro”). The park was created to protect the scenic landscape of the region, as well as its flora and fauna.

The northern part of DINP is characterized by the central Iberian high plateau climatic influence of the Tras-os-Montes, with altitudes ranging between 2,300–2,600 feet. Here, the Douro River valley cuts very steeply through granitic river banks. Downriver the valley becomes more open and is characterized by a microclimate with low rainfall and mild winter temperatures.

There are some human inhabitants within the park, living in small villages surrounded by cultivated fields. Villagers grow grapes, oranges, almonds and olives, and also breed sheep, cattle and pigeons. Throughout the park one can find Pyrenean oak woods and cerquinho, as well as cork oak. Groves of junipers, alders, willows and ash trees can be found growing along the river, in addition to large areas covered with broom and cistus.

Natural forests, riverine habitats, man-made meadows, vineyards and olive groves give the area diverse biotopes, and thus a basis for high biodiversity. The fauna in DINP is distinguished by a variety of species—all with different conservation threats, according the IUCN classification system.

Of the birds found in DINP, the red kite and black wheatear are critically endangered. The vulture-of-Egypt, harrier hunter, golden eagle and Bonelli’s eagle are endangered; the black stork and peregrine falcon, among others, are classified as vulnerable. These birds can be found on cliffs facing the river canyons, with the exception of the red kite and harrier hunter, who occupy the plateau above the rivers.

Of the mammals found in the park, the horseshoe bat is critically endangered; the wolf is endangered; and the teddy bat and cabrera mouse are classified as vulnerable. DINP is home to caves where bats can be found hibernating. Lucky visitors may also find reptiles such as the striated tortoise and the vibora-horned tortoise, both of which are endangered.

PREHISTORIC ROCK-ART SITES OF THE CÔA VALLEY

The Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites of the Côa Valley are open-air Paleolithic archaeological sites located in a region of northeastern Portugal, along the Portugal-Spain border. The engravings were discovered in the late 1980s in Vila Nova de Foz Côa. The site is situated in the valley of the Côa River, and comprises thousands of engraved drawings of horses, bovines and other animal, human and abstract figures, dated from 22,000 to 10,000 years B.C. Since 1995 a team of archaeologists have been studying and cataloging this pre-historical complex, and a park was created to receive visitors. The importance remains the rareness and extension of these sites; although there are numerous pre-historical art sites in caves, open-air sites are rarer (and only include Mazouco (Portugal), Fornols-Haut (France), Domingo García and the Siega Verde (both in Spain). The Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998.
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