The Belgian

Luis I Bridge
Photo:  Município do PortoCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

With the help of the Flemish

In 1147 a fleet of crusaders heading for Palestine arrived in Porto. Many of the crusaders came from Flanders and were led by Christian de Gistel. The Bishop of Porto decided to ask for their help to release Lisbon from the Moors. The fleet joined the Portuguese King and participated in the siege and in the conquest of the city. By the Cathedral, in Porto, some words remember the event in the exact place where the Bishop preached to the crusaders.

Old Partners

In the late Middle Ages the commercial trade between Porto and Flanders was quite active. Textiles, weapons, luxury items arrived from Bruges, Gand, Ipres and Tournai. In exchange, Porto exported honey, salt and wine. These contacts had an influence on the local architecture and one of the biggest testimonies of the Flemish merchants’ presence in Porto is an old house from the fourteenth century, bearing the traces of the Flemish architecture, still visible today on a narrow street at the back of the Cathedral. Recent archaeological excavations revealed the presence of Flemish glazed ceramics from the fourteenth and fifteenth-century.

The Factories

With the advent of the Discoveries, the Porto merchants had a bigger supply: sugar from Madeira and African and Oriental spices. A Portuguese commercial factory was created in Bruges and later in Antwerp. In the early sixteenth century, the Porto-born João Brandão would become one of its most famous overseers. A merchant and a manager of Portuguese affairs, he was also a cultivated man with many artistic relations. Another Porto-born overseerthat was in charge of the Factory was Manuel Cirne, son-in-law of the former.

Treasures of Flemish Art

The Flemish fashion arrived in Porto due to the commercial contacts. Merchants, nobles and clergy enriched the city with painted panels, illuminated books, and tapestry ordered from Flanders. Among the many rarities still in Porto, there is one of the most notable paintings of the Portuguese artistic heritage: the Fons Vitae, by the notable Van Orley, owned by the Santa Casa da Misericórdia of Porto. At the Guerra Junqueiro House Museum one can admire a notable collection that includes Flemish tapestry, sculptures and paintings.

Missals from Antwerp

Many juridical and religious books arrived in Porto from the North of Europe. Among these were the famous missals from Antwerp. From Flanders also came the parchments used for the transcription of the most solemn documents. The 1517 Charter of Porto, a regal document that established the rights and duties of the citizens and that would rule the civil life of the city for more than 300 years, was written on a Flemish parchment.

“Sea Bread”

In the seventeenth century many Flemish merchants settled in Porto. They represented the largest community of foreigners, had their own consul and several official interpreters. Fully integrated in the life of the city, they even worked in the local administration. They bought mainly sumach (a dye-weed used in the textile industry) and, later, wines. From the North of Europe they brought wheat, referred to as “sea bread” by the city’s inhabitants.

Strong wines

The regional wines traded in Porto brought many foreign merchants to the city. In the seventeenth century the fame of Port Wine grew increasingly. Belgium became one of its main consuming markets.

A Belgian Engineer

The Belgian engineering is represented in Porto by the monumental Luís I iron bridge that joins both banks of the Douro. The Societé de Willebroek, following the project of the Belgian engineer Téophile Seyrig, erected the bridge in the 1880s.

A ride in the “Belgian”

Since their introduction, in the late nineteenth century, tramways are one of the city’s most typical means of transportation. In 1929 some tramways built in Belgium began circulating in Porto and immediately became known as the “Belgians”. Today, they still run in the city center and along the river.

Published 13-09-2013
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