“There may be many in our city who replace the letter b with v, but there are very few who replace honour with infamy, and freedom with servitude.” The words of the great writer, Almeida Garrett, are a perfect way to begin the Liberal Route with the historian Joel Cleto.
“You come here to bring peace to an entire Nation, and war only to a hypocritical, despotic and usurpatory government. The endeavour is glorious; the cause just and noble, the victory assured.” King Pedro IV of Portugal, and I of Brazil, was giving an emotional address to his troops, the “7500 brave”, about to disembark at Memória Beach in Matosinhos, next to Porto, on 8th June 1832. In those first few days, there would be no need to fire a shot or kill a soul.
The proclaimer of Brazilian independence and its first Emperor in 1822, Pedro was King of Portugal for a few months in 1826 before abdicating to his daughter, Dona Maria, just a child at the time. Dom Miguel, Pedro’s brother, assumed the regency, but betrayed the Constitutional Charter and restored the absolutist regime, usurping the throne. The fact is that the revolutions in America and France were continuing to mark the 19th century, and the liberals were pointing the way towards representative constitutional monarchy. In 1831, in order to restore liberalism in the mother country, Pedro abdicated from the Brazilian throne and returned to Europe. For just over a year, he rallied support and finally headed to the island of Terceira in the Azores, where the resistance was organised. He left there with an army heading for the north of Portugal, to start a civil war he would win in 1834. His brother Miguel left for exile and never returned to Portugal. He died in 1866 in Germany.
One night during that auspicious summer, in Pedras Rubras, a few kilometres from Memória, a starving officer went looking for food and came across a house with the sign “Tavern of the Three F”. He staggered in, overcome by a mixture of exhaustion from his voyage across the Atlantic and lack of food. He asked the innkeeper what the three F were and the prompt reply was: “fresh fried fish”. Upon finishing the delicious meal, the officer told him to add another F, on “faith”, since he hadn’t brought any money with him. The innkeeper didn’t dare confront the soldier, but told him he was trying to save money to marry the landlord’s daughter. The officer left without paying – but later had three gold coins sent to him for the dowry. The following day, everyone came out to see the liberating army heading towards Porto. It was then that the innkeeper recognised the officer leading the brave: he’d served King Pedro.
On the pretext of the Liberal Route of Porto, one of the most interesting new tourist itineraries in the city (rotaportoliberal.pt), the historian Joel Cleto, who tells this story, understands better than anyone the effects of combining legends with more accurate records. He quotes the popular poet, António Aleixo: “For the lie to be safe/ and achieve deeper meaning/ it has to bring to the mix/ something of true leaning”. Joel has hosted his own TV show, Caminhos da História since Porto Canal started, and has become a celebrated communicator. As he captivates viewers, he tells the story of the country and of the city of his birth, known as “Unvanquished” after resisting the absolutists throughout a long blockade known as the Siege of Porto. He uses the stories from history as a strategy for achieving wider appeal.
Memory of memories
At Memória Beach there’s a huge obelisk bearing the names of some commanders of the Liberating Army and Dom Pedro’s speech to the soldiers before they disembarked. It was inaugurated in 1840 and, in addition to Queen Maria II, some of the “brave” were also present. Inside the monument, there’s a safe where the queen’s speech is kept, whose golden key can be found at Matosinhos City Hall.
As Joel speaks in a steady but enthusiastic voice and slow but deliberate gestures, he explains why King Pedro chose the northern coast: Porto was the city that had led the Liberal Revolution of 1820; his enemy brother, Dom Miguel, was waiting for him in Lisbon; and it was almost impossible for ships to enter the River Douro on whose shores Porto stands. At Memória Beach, there’s also a passageway through the rocks, a little-known secret that had already been of use to countless pirates. Before they landed, the place was known as the Beach of Thieves.
The historian recalls that the ranks of liberals included students and recent graduates from Coimbra University, the Academic Brigade, which incorporated writers and poets (as well as foreign mercenaries and idealist volunteers), Alexandre Herculano and Almeida Garrett among the best known. They went to Porto to join what was later baptised Square of the Liberating Army in the Carvalhido neighbourhood, where they set up camp. They then headed to the city centre along Rua de 9 de Julho (the same day the town was taken), Joel recounts, singing and with blue hydrangeas in their rifle barrels. The enemy forces withdrew to the opposite river bank, in Gaia.
From the top of Serra do Pilar, next to Dom Luís Bridge and with Porto behind him, Joel explains the importance of this strategic bridge during the Siege of Porto. From there, the entire city would be at the mercy of bombardments. Sá Nogueira was one of the liberals who refused to disarm, confronting the absolutist army encamped near the mountain with a handful of men, at a place called Alto da Bandeira. He lost an arm during the fighting, which didn’t stop him from going on. He was forced to retreat to the mountain and stayed there until the end of the Siege, which lasted until 1833. When it ended, the king, who’d never met the brave men, rushed to visit “his Poles” – a reference to the liberals who’d fought against the Russian occupation of Poland – and made Sá Nogueira a baron, later to become Marquis Sá da Bandeira, perpetuating the name of the place in the title. Today, the soldiers at Serra do Pilar barracks are still known as “Poles”.
The siege lasted for 13 months, during which the city defended itselve from the 40-thousand-strong enemy forces who bombarded it incessantly, not to mention the suffering caused by malnutrition and outbreaks of cholera, resulting in thousands of deaths. Dom Pedro remained for ever indebted to the Unvanquished. Joel enters the Church of Lapa, the only one the monarch attended. In a mausoleum on the left of the chancel, built with stones from the fortifications of the Siege, lies the heart of Dom Pedro, who, shortly before his death in 1834, asked for it to be taken from his corpse and kept in the church for ever (his body rests in São Paulo, Brazil.)
Where it all began
Joel goes down to Praça da Liberdade, where we find the equestrian statue of Dom Pedro holding the Constitutional Charter in his right hand. We can also see the names of the rebels who were executed in Aveiro in 1828 for launching an attempted anti-absolutist coup. This leads us to the first of its kind, in 1817, in Lisbon, for which the conspirators, led by General Gomes Freire de Andrade, were also condemned to death. Absolutism would eventually fall in Porto, during the Liberal Revolution of 1820, led by notable members of the Sinédrio, a secret organisation including freemasons (like Freire de Andrade). Dom Pedro was also initiated into the Freemasonry in Brazil, with the symbolic name of Guatimozim, the former Aztec emperor killed by the Spanish for refusing to hand over his people’s gold. The connections to Freemasonry are evident among the wellknown liberals, in the Constitutional Charter and in some symbolic representations such as the obelisk at Memória Beach. Joel Cleto highlights the masonic connections with the Liberal Revolution and its close ties with the American and French revolutions. Even so, he points out the importance of merchants and traders, discontent with absolutism and the laws that restricted trade and free exchange, in welcoming liberal ideology in Porto.
Land of dragons
The past is one of rebellion, in which Porto always played a major role, recalls Joel. It was in Porto that revolts such as the 1628 Maçarocas Riot broke out against the tax on spun linen, which led to the Restoration of Independence (from Spain) in 1640; the Stamped Paper Revolt in 1661, against the royal decree which imposed its use; or the 1757 Innkeepers’ Revolt, against decisions over the Douro vineyards taken by the future Marquis of Pombal. What is more, the city elected the first national republican deputy to the Courts in 1878, and was the first to try and establish the Republic in 1891 (which succeeded in Lisbon in 1910). A leading role in the 19th century taken away by the dictatorship in the 20th century. It was a city of bourgeois, industrialists, traders, thinkers and artists who fought for autonomy, and which, adds Joel “rebels whenever it thinks those in power are going too far. A port city, open to contact with the outside world. The five letters of its name say it all”.
At Praça da Liberdade, near the statue of Dom Pedro, there’s another named O Porto, which is the city’s mythological allegory in the form of a warrior, sculpted in 1818. On its head there’s a dragon, which came to figure on the city’s coat-of-arms in 1837, but was removed in 1940 by order of the dictatorship, in reaction to the liberal symbolism of its use. Some institutions that adopted it never heeded the order, including the football club, FC Porto.
Resist till the end
Joel didn’t want to leave out Foz do Douro, another essential part of the city in its successful resistance during the Siege of Porto. The Fort of St John the Baptist and the Lighthouse of Our Lady of Light were strategic points in ensuring that a few supplies reached the bank of the Douro. The blockade was finally lifted in August 1833. The enemy brother, Dom Miguel, hearing of another liberal landing, the definitive one, this time in the Algarve, tried to attack the city one last time. Repelled, he withdrew to defend Lisbon, but didn’t make it in time.
Still in Foz, between new buildings and a pine grove, we find one of the few remains of the fortifications of the Siege of Porto. From a distance, it looks like just another hill. Close up, though, you can see the artificial nature of the elevation known as Espaldão or Fort of Ervilha, which was nothing more than a battery where the liberals took shelter and responded to absolutist fire. Joel Cleto is unable to conceal the pride that only the people born here truly understand: “From up here, 200 years are looking at us,” he says with neither pomp nor circumstance, just with the solemnity that the brave of the Siege of Porto deserve.
by Augusto Freitas de Sousa /// photos Egídio Santos
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