Rua 31 de Janeiro plaque

Rua de 31 de Janeiro: the story behind the street name

When we first visited Portugal, I was intrigued that some of the streets were named after calendar dates. As Northern Europeans, we were unfamiliar with this way of topographical naming and, once we had arrived here to stay permanently, I decided that I needed to know the stories behind the dates.

There are eight streets named in this way in Tavira. It was easy enough to decipher the reasons behind the commemorations of April 9 and 25, May 1, October 4, 5 and 7, and December 1. But what was the history behind January 31?

Yet again, we must return to the Implantation of the Republic in 1910 (the October dates all refer to significant events in Tavira during the Implantation). Soon after the declaration of the Republic on October 5, 1910, the Provisional Government decreed only five national bank holidays. Fiercely anti-clerical, they dissociated holidays from religious festivals, and declared that the only recognised religious holiday in Portugal would be the weekly Sunday day of rest.

Their bank holidays were January 1 (New Year’s Day, not as formerly the Festival of the Circumcision), January 31 (Martyrs of the Republic), October 5 (Implantation of the Republic), December 1 (Restoration of Independence) and December 25 (Day of the Family, not the religious Christmas Day). January 31 remained a bank holiday until 1952.

Tavira in 1910 was heartily Republican, and the Câmara in 1911 gave republican names to streets to replace royal and saints’ names. For a very clear reason, the present Rua 31 de Janeiro replaced Rua de Santo António.

The Republican Party in Portugal was not founded until 1876 and, for some years, it was very much a minority interest. The event which gave it a major boost was the Ultimatum of 1890. Britain, acting as the world’s policeman, behaved in a manner similar to that of the United States of today.

The peremptory order by Prime Minister Lord Salisbury to Portugal on January 11, 1890 gave little time for a considered response. All Portuguese forces were to withdraw forthwith from the area between Angola and Mozambique.

Portugal had since 1884 attempted to effect the occupation of the territory between Angola and Mozambique. The map which illustrated Portugal’s claim is referred to as Mapa Cor-de-Rosa. The Royal Geographic Society of Lisbon sponsored a number of expeditions to this area and, in January of 1890, Paiva Couceiro advanced from Angola, and Serpa Pinto tore down British flags near Lake Nyasa. It was this action which provoked the reaction by Prime Minister Salisbury.

He considered that Portugal had neither means nor power effectively to occupy that area of Africa, and that Portugal’s claims were based on “archaeological arguments”. Many people consider that the British South Africa Company intended to build a railway between Cairo and Cape Town on British administered territory, and the construction of such a railway would require the very territory to which Portugal was staking a claim.

There was an immediate outcry in Portugal. How could an ally behave in such a high-handed manner? If the Portuguese king could not influence the British, what was the use of an expensive royal family? Guerra Junqueiro published Finis Patriae, in which he ridiculed the king. The debate in parliament on August 30 to ratify the Treaty of London brought more angry protests.

The Republican Party held its annual congress in Porto on January 1, 1891. Although there was no talk of a revolt at this congress, many delegates were enthused by the recent proclamation of the Republic of Brazil (November 15, 1889).

At dawn on January 31, 1891, a battalion of Caçadores, without their officers but under the command of their sergeants, marched towards the centre of Porto; they were joined by an infantry regiment and some police. As the revolutionaries approached the Câmara offices in Porto, from the Câmara balcony Alves da Veiga proclaimed the Republic, and one of his companions read out the list of names of those who would form the Provisional Government. The crowd cheered the red and green flag, blew fanfares and moved off to occupy the Post Office.

A detachment of the Municipal Guard barred their way at the summit of Rua de Santo António, and in response to two shots fired by someone in the multitude, the Guard fired a volley into the front of the crowd, which instantly dissolved. About 300 of them fled to the Câmara building, where they were powerfully besieged. By 10 o’clock that morning, they had surrendered, by which time 12 rebels had been killed, and 40 wounded.

Those accused by the Government of revolt were herded onto ships in Leixões harbour to be tried by Military Councils. Some of the leaders had escaped abroad, others declared that their names had been used without their permission or even knowledge. Of the more than 500 accused and tried, 250 were sentenced to transportation to Africa for periods of between 18 months and 15 years.

As soon as the Republic was founded in 1910, the new Republican Câmara in Porto re-named the fateful Rua de Santo António as Rua de 31 de Janeiro, in memory of the first ever Republican revolt in Portugal. And on April 10, 1911, the Câmara in Tavira, following suit, also chose the street called Rua de Santo António and re-named it Rua de 31 de Janeiro in honour of the martyrs of 1891.

By Lynne Booker
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Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association. [email protected]

Lord Salisbury
Mapa Cor-de-Rosa
Rua 31 de Janeiro plaque
Rua 31 de Janeiro Porto
The January 31, 1891 revolt in Porto
The January 31, 1891 revolt in Porto