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A brief introduction to the two cities - Bristol | Oporto

Bristol

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Bristol is situated in the South West of England, where the River Avon cuts its way through 100 metre limestone cliffs to run to the Severn estuary, which opens onto the Atlantic Ocean. The name Bristol comes from the Saxon word, 'Brycgstow', which was in use by 1100 AD, meaning meeting place and / or the place of the bridge. 'Avon' is an ancient Celtic word for river, so the River Avon is really 'River River'.

The modern city of Bristol covers 110 square kms, and has a population of nearly 400,000, although the greater Bristol area covers around 1332 square kms and has a population of nearly 1 million.There has probably been settlement in this area since before 1000 BC, as evidenced by the remains of Bronze Age burial mounds in Lockleaze and Pucklechurch, and Iron Age hill forts in Clifton and Stokeleigh, in Leigh Woods. Roman settlers arrived around 40 AD, and attracted by the hot springs, established a major town, Aqua Sulis, which is now Bath, 15 miles away. The Romans built the first harbour in the area at Abona, now called Sea Mills, in order to establish supply routes for trade and war.

The city has always had a strong association with the sea. Although Bristol is 6 miles from the coast, the River Avon runs through the heart of the city, and during Norman times around the 1100's, the shipyards and docks were expanded, enabling Bristol to become a major sea port. Trade increased and Bristol did particularly well. The harbour was full of ships, the main imports and exports being corn, hides, wine and wool. By the 15th century, Bristolian merchants wanted to find new markets, and Bristol was in the forefront of world exploration. In 1497, John Cabot, a Venetian who had settled in Bristol, sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland, Canada, on his ship the Matthew, and became the first European to arrive on the American continent.

Bristol's links with the sea became even stronger in the 18th and 19th centuries when it became one of the country's busiest ports. Its success was due to the fact that it was central to the trade triangle between Africa, the UK and the New World of the Americas. Goods such as sugar, tea and tobacco filled the bonded warehouses on the sides of the city's docks.

Part of Bristol's history which has been overlooked is its rôle in the 18th century slave trade. Slaves were exploited as cheap labour to grow the sugar, tobacco, cotton and other commodities upon which Bristol's wealth depended. Africans, who were preferred as slaves, were transported in dreadful conditions from their homes in West Africa to the plantations in the West Indies and America, where they were sold into slavery and forced to work under the harsh and cruel discipline of colonial masters. Many West Indians were also transported on a terrible voyage back to Bristol, where they were illegally sold and forced to become slaves in the households of the city's rich merchants and aristocrats. Bristol is now acknowledging this part of its history, and the erection of Pero's Bridge on Harbourside in 2000 commemorates all the slaves abused and killed during the slave trade. There have also been recent exhibitions at the Commonwealth and Empire Museum and the Industrial Museum's, on the horrific trade in human beings which created wealth for much of the city during this time.

In the 19th century the docks became central to the industrialisation of Bristol. There are two great monuments to this period, which are still important landmarks in the city: the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the SS. Great Britain. They were both built by the famous Victorian engineer and architect, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

In the last decade, Bristol has renewed its links with the sea in a way, which has brought a new energy to the whole city. Harbourside is now lined with trendy bars, restaurants, art centres, shops and museums. Many old warehouses have been transformed into bistros, pubs and cinemas, and pleasure boats and ferries busy the waterways of the floating harbour. There are even three floating restaurants plus a nightclub on a converted Greek ferryboat, and a cocktail bar on a converted Dutch barge!

Bristol is now a bold, creative and vibrant city, which expresses itself through art, architecture and music. Regular festivals celebrate everything from film, music and dance, to hot-air ballooning, seafaring life, wildlife and architecture. There is an exciting and vibrant nightlife and clubbers, live music lovers, and concert and theatre-goers are spoilt for choice. The city is the cultural capital of the South West and provides a friendly welcome to visitors.

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