“I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul”
Invictus, by William Ernest Henley
Invicta – the Unconquered. This is how Porto is known among the Portuguese. Carved in grayish granite, there it stands like a steep sloped stronghold guarding the precious river Douro.
To understand the city and its people, one must first discover some important parts of its history, which I invite you to revisit with me. The country may have been born in Guimarães, a town a bit further north, but it was named after Portus Cale, the city which later became Porto. It was never the capital, though. The first was Coimbra, and then Lisbon, which was conquered in 1255 by the Arabs.
Porto is therefore not a city of nobility. The court and politics always evolved around the capital, Lisbon. Porto has been for centuries a city of industry, trade and commerce. It always thrived on the shoulders of entrepreneurs and hardworking men and women. As a result, one of the most important buildings in the city is the Palace of the Commerce Association of Porto (locally known as Palacio da Bolsa). This gray-stoned building, besides lodging the Instituto do Vinho do Porto (Port Wine Institute), also hides one of the most precious architectural gems in all of the country, the Arab ballroom.
But the ramifications go far deeper than one may realize at first. This is the true reason behind the rivalry between Porto, the struggling sibling, and Lisbon, the privileged one. This rivalry is transversal to every aspect of society, from politics to business to soccer. It even extends to beer. Believe it or not, I have witnessed on several occasions locals opting for Coca Cola to avoid drinking a beer brand produced near Lisbon.
It also explains why the people are so profoundly patriot and have such strong convictions. As a testimony to this, at the beginning of the Portuguese maritime expansion, its inhabitants gave all the meat available in the city to the expedition. Only the guts remained. This is why Porto inhabitants are called “Tripeiros” (“tripa” is the Portuguese expression for “gut”). Also, it was then that the famous traditional dish was invented, “Tripas à moda do Porto”, which is a stew made with tripe and yellow beans. I assure you it is a properly delicious meal, although I personally prefer eating the beans and leaving the guts.
Free-spirited and untamable, during the 19th century civil war, the city stood by the liberalist troops loyal to D. Pedro, resisting a long siege perpetrated by the absolutist army loyal to D. Miguel. With Porto as a stronghold, the loyalists ended up winning the war, and the city was henceforth called Invicta, the Unconquered.
Porto is, therefore, a city who conquers but that cannot be conquered. A city of fierce and hardworking people, true to their beliefs and that offer their hearts and souls to the ones they care for. It is a city of true-born Portuguese men and, particularly, women. And this too, has far more implications than seem apparent. But this is a tale for another story.