Porto, Fading Jewel of Portugal


In August 2011 I had the pleasure of visiting the city of Porto, Portugal’s second largest city.  The old city of Porto, on the north bank of the Douro River, is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) world heritage site that is home to some breathtaking architecture harking back to heyday of the Portuguese empire in the sixteenth century.  Today, Porto is a bustling tourist centre catering to visitors predominantly from cooler climes of northern Europe and the home of FC Porto, one of European football’s most successful clubs.  The beauty of the city is matched by the charm and sophistication of the people who live in it.

The city was established during the Brozne Age as a trading post and became the strategic outpost of Portus of Cale during the Roman occupation (which is the origin of the name Portugal).  The city was largely abandoned during the Arab invasions of the eighth century but was reconstituted by Christians in 868.  The city again became a key point of commerce, known for its ship building.  By the time of Portugal’s imperial expansion in the fourteenth century, Porto had the most important shipyard in the country.  The trade in Vinho do Porto (port wine) began in the seventeenth century and was a driving force in the enrichment of bourgeois traders and church aristocrats at this time, which not coincidentally has much to do with the erection of many stunning buildings through the city during this period.

Sadly however, Portugal is one of the countries most effected by the European debt crisis.  In today’s Portugal, the opulence of the imperial past is a distant memory.  The city is a testament to the parabolic history of empires, which rise and fall and do not last forever.  The history of the Portuguese empire gives us much to ponder as we move through an early twenty-first century version of the rise and fall of great powers.

This photo essay is a diary of my time in Porto.  I hope that it embodies the colour and the character of this remarkable city.  Photo descriptions can be obtained by hovering the mouse pointer over each photo.

Further Information:

The Portuguese in Brazil series by Lynne Booker of the Algarve History Association.

Part 1: The Land of the True Cross (pre-1500)

Part 2: Holding On (1500-1650)

Part 3: The Golden Age (1650-1808)

Part 4: Imperial Decline (1808-1822)

Part 5: Imperial Brazil and the Fall of the House of Braganca (1822-1889)


Dr. Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben’s research project projects include North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and undergraduate teaching pedagogy. He also teaches in Australian politics and the international relations of the Middle East.  Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea.  Ben is involved with local community groups Wodonga and Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) and Transition Albury-Wodonga.

Ben welcomes constructive feedback.  Please comment below, or contact Ben at b.habib@latrobe.edu.au.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.



  1. Thanks Ben. The three empires may now be empty or emptying but at least Spain still has its sherry, Portugal has its port and the USA will have its bourbon to drown their sinful sorrows. I’ll drink to that!!!

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