The history of Porto and North of Portugal is also the history of its women!
Women who stood out in culture, in the sciences, in sports, working women whose effort and dedication served as a lever for the region's development. Classes of workers and personalities who have marked the history of the region and the country and who have greatly contributed so that today we can dream of gender equality.
On International Women's Day we pay tribute to some of them, traveling through the region through the footprints they left behind and the tributes paid to them.
Woman, a crucial element in the different artistic manifestations of each era, has always taken on an important symbolic, ritual and even religious role. The so-called “Vénus de Vidago” is a testament to this, a sculpture attributed to the period of Roman rule and which can be observed at the Museu da Região Flaviense, in Chaves.
The harshness and bravery of life of the “women of the sea” has inspired one of the most outstanding contemporary creators: Vhils, tag name of Alexandre Farto. On the Esposende waterfront, next to the Centro de Atividades Náuticas, the artist created an extensive panel, inaugurated in 2020, which highlights traditional activities of women in this community.
On a beach in Matosinhos, the bronze sculpture “Tragédia no Mar” evokes the pain and despair of the fishermen's wives. Inaugurated in 2005, the piece recalls the greatest tragedy in history on the Portuguese coast: a storm, on the night of 1 December 1947, killed more than 250 fishermen. The sculptor of this piece, José João Brito, was inspired by a painting by Augusto Gomes.
Since 2020, a sculpture by José Lamas has perpetuated, on the Rampa das Carquejeiras, the memory of one of the cruellest activities, undertaken by women, in the history of Porto. During the 19th century and until the middle of the 20th century, they were the ones who daily and painfully climbed the ramp with more than 200 meters in length and a 20% incline, carrying 50 to 60 kgs of broom plants, used to fire and fuel many of the city's ovens.
A female activity predominant in coastal communities since the late Middle Ages, bobbin lace has often been more than domestic production, being an important source of income for many women. In the Vila do Conde waterfront, a sculpture by Ilídio Fontes, from 1933, pays homage to the female lacemakers (rendilheiras). Nearby, the Museu das Rendas de Bilros deserves a visit.
Female art from Trás-os-Montes, silk production is here before the 17th century. The cycle, always controlled by women, begins with the planting of the mulberry tree, food of silkworms. It is from the cocoon that the skilful hands of women, generation after generation, remove the thread and weave the silk. A memory still alive at the Museu da Seda and from the Territory of Freixo-de-Espada-à-Cinta.
The landscape of the slopes and vineyards of the Douro, a World Heritage Site, is inseparably linked with the figure of the “Ferreirinha”. Born in Godim, Peso da Régua, she became a widow and heir at the age of 30. She invested, negotiated and modernised the production of Port and Douro wines by herself, building an “empire” that would include 30 quintas (wine estates), warehouses and palaces. She would also be known as “saint” and “mother of the poor”.
The Municipal Library Florbela Espanca (project by Alcino Soutinho) and the bust-mask of Florbela (by Irene Vilar) evoke in the centre of Matosinhos the strong connection that the city has with one of the most relevant figures of Portuguese poetry of the early 20th century. Although born in Vila Viçosa, it was here that the poet wrote and lived, bold and opposing prejudices, the last years of her life.
Near the castle of Guimarães and next to Palácio da Justiça, the figure of the Countess Mumadona Dias is remembered, who, in the 10th century, ordered that fortification to be erected to protect the monastery that she also founded there. Inaugurated in 1960, the monument evokes this person in charge of the Condado Portucalense, as being the source of the role that, later, Guimarães would have in the creation of the Portuguese kingdom.
Escola Secundária Carolina Michaëlis, in Porto, recalls one of the biggest names in Portuguese culture at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Connected also to Rua de Cedofeita, where that female secondary school started, and where the house where she lived and produced part of her oeuvre remains, Carolina was a relevant researcher of our literature and the first woman to teach at a Portuguese university.
Author of timeless novels, a major name in the Portuguese letters of the last decades and honoured with multiple awards and decorations, Agustina was born in Vila Meã, Amarante, in a house located very close to the old pillory of the village, having been baptised in the church at the monastery of Salvador de Travanca, exceptional medieval temple that is part of the Route of the Romanesque.
Exuberant figure in American film productions from the mid-20th century, Cármen Miranda was a famous Brazilian singer, dancer and actress, who stood out by her exotic costumes, including hats with fruits. Although she emigrated very young to Brazil, Marco de Canaveses, her homeland, did not forget her and dedicates the Municipal Museum to her and a monument which opened in 2017.
Casa-Museu Camilo Castelo Branco, in Seide, Famalicão, keeps not only the memory of the famous Portuguese romantic writer, but also that of his companion and also a writer Ana Plácido, who stood out in poetry and translation, using male pen names. Got married to Camilo, in 1888, on what was her second marriage, they had been living in concubinage for years, in a relationship that shocked part of the Portuguese society of that time.
The mansion of the current Botanical Garden of Porto was the residence of one of the most recognised Portuguese poets, during her childhood, and also served as inspiration for some of her famous children's stories. She used her poetry in the fight for Freedom and in the post-1974 Revolution she was a member of the Constituent Assembly. Among others, she was awarded with the Camões Prize, the Pessoa Prize and the Queen Sofia Prize.
Seen by some to be the first Portuguese queen, D. Teresa was Countess of Portucale between 1112 and 1128, having developed a policy of increasing autonomy that her son - Afonso Henriques - would intensify, leading the county to the independence of Portugal. Having granted a Charter to Ponte de Lima, in this village we can observe a statue that recalls it, by Luís Valadares and inaugurated in 2002.
Niece of Aurélia de Sousa and great-niece of Ramalho Ortigão, Marta Ortigão Sampaio inherited her taste for the arts, reflected in the vast collections of painting, jewellery, furniture and decorative arts that she collected throughout her life and installed them in the house that she commissioned to the architect José Carlos Loureiro in 1954-1955, in Porto, today a House-Museum with her name.
Granddaughter of Afonso Henriques and daughter of King D. Sancho I, Mafalda was a powerful figure in her time, associated with a relevant religious life that earned her the title of Beata (devout person). Her designation as queen results from the fact that she was married to the monarch of Castile, whom she was widowed shortly after marriage. Her tomb, object of great devotion, can be found at the monastery of Arouca, which she founded.
Olympic and world champion in marathon, Rosa Mota stands out in the world scene as an excellent athlete and one of the best runners of the 20th century. Born in Porto, she began her career at Futebol Clube da Foz in 1974. In 1991, her name is given to the Sports Hall built in one of the most beautiful and pleasant spaces in her city: the gardens of the long-vanished Palácio de Cristal.
Her work has been crucial to the preservation and visibility of part of Maia's intangible heritage, traditional folklore music and dance. She was born on 12 October 1950, in the parish of Moreira da Maia and, in 1954, she joined the Grupo Regional de Moreira da Maia as a dancer. At the age of 27, she took over as head of the Grupo Regional and is currently president of this federated Group.