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A brief introduction to the two cities - Bristol | Oporto


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Oporto is the undisputed capital of the north of Portugal and the country's second largest city, after Lisbon. Looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean, the city perches on the edge of a granite gorge cut by the Rio Douro, which translates to 'River of Gold'. There was an early settlement here, probably 5th century, called Cale, also referred to as Portus Cale, being known as a port from earliest times. This name is thought to be the origin of both the country of Portugal's name, and of the famous wine produced in this region. In Portuguese, the name of the city is 'Porto', the English name Oporto translating as 'the Port'.

Modern Oporto stretches along the north bank of the River Douro and is spread over 27 square kms, with a population of around 30,000. On the south bank of the river is Vila Nova de Gaia, It is officially another city, but it is so close it feels a part of Oporto. The metropolitan area of the city covers over 500 square kms, with a population of 1.15 million.

With its location at the mouth of the River Douro, Oporto has developed as a commerce centre for goods, particularly port wine from the Douro region. Being situated close to the Atlantic Ocean at a natural intersection of the transport routes from North to South, the city has always played an important rĂ´le in international trade. The Portuguese became world leaders in sea travel, navigation, and exploration, and played a prominent part in colonising Latin America, and in the slave trade.

The oldest part of the city was built on the hill around the Sé Cathedral and it expanded outwards from here. The narrow streets of the Sé district lead downhill to the ancient Ribeira, or 'riverside' district, which has a mixture of twisting medieval streets and shadowy arches, lavish Baroque churches and neo-classical official buildings. Now there are also many popular riverside cafés and restaurants. These two areas make up the major part of the city's UNESCO World Heritage Site, which the city was awarded in 1996. UNESCO stated that Oporto's historic centre, built along the hillsides overlooking the mouth of the River Douro, forms an exceptional urban landscape with a 1000 year history, whose continuous growth can be seen in its many and varied monuments'.

Throughout the city there are reminders of its prosperity, past and present, including examples of marvellous architecture such as the Torre Clerigos (the clerics' tower) - a baroque masterpiece, and the São Bento Railway station with its beautiful tiled murals that decorate the interior.

In recent years the more dilapidated areas of the city have been regenerated and a burst of architectural and artistic energy has seen a bloom in Oporto's cultural importance. This was recognised in 2001, when the city was awarded the status of European City of Culture.

The city now has a wealth of shops, restaurants and cafés. Many young people spend evenings with their friends in the numerous coffee houses, and Portuguese film stars and artists like to hang out the famous Café Majestic, situated in Rua Santa Catarina. There are many beautiful buildings to visit and a wealth of museums, theatres and art galleries. Since 2001, the music and nightlife scene of Oporto has expanded. There are plenty of places to listen to jazz, or a Symphony Orchestra or dance to Brazilian grooves in one of the city's nightclubs.

Modern Oporto is a lively and diverse place. It is an interesting contrast of old and new where the local people show visitors warmth and friendliness.

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