Walking around any town or city in Portugal, I like to see the street names and then I wonder how and why they acquired their name.
Names are usually given to a throughway between two points and can be derived from politics, religion, history or the community. Throughways can be roads, streets, avenues, squares, steps, lanes, alleys, etc, all named after an event, a person, a place or a thing. I will just refer to all of them as roads or streets!
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a road and a street? A road connects different towns or places whereas a street has buildings and exists within an urban area. In Portugal, there are over 276,000 arterials, high-capacity urban roads, with over 82,000 distinct names.
The Portuguese for road is ‘rua’. Road names are accepted as a fact and probably not many people stop to wonder about them. However, I do!
Some names evidently commemorate an event such as the April 25, 1974, revolution. In fact, 25 de Abril is a name that has been given to almost every designation of a throughway in Portugal.
Other names honour well-known figures such as the monarchy, although many of these were later replaced. In studying my antique post card collection (1898-1913), I thought that the recipients had moved from Avenida Rainha D. Amélia to Avenida Almirante Reis in Lisbon. Actually, the avenue had its name changed from honouring the queen to honouring instead the military ‘hero’ instigator of the revolution that deposed the monarchy on October 5, 1910, and established Portugal as a republic. I thought it sad that the queen had lost this honour. There are over 530 streets named 5 de Outubro in Portugal!
With Portugal’s political history, nationalism and military figures feature in many names. For instance, I found 349 references honouring General Humberto Delgado who opposed Dictator António Salazar and was thus exiled and then killed by Salazar’s secret police.
I found no streets named for António Salazar, however, did you know that the old Lisbon bridge named Ponte 25 de Abril used to be called Ponte Salazar? Built between November 1962 and August 1966, it is the 33rd biggest suspension bridge in the world at 2227 metres long.
Of course, Portugal’s age of discoveries has influenced many road names, 512 honouring Infante D. Henrique, the prince who led the voyages of exploration that resulted in Portugal’s colonisation in the North Atlantic and West Africa.
Equally, all over Portugal, there are numerous roads named after the colonies such as Rua Timor, Rua de Angola, Rua de Cabo Verde. I grew up near Cascais in Rua de Goa, which commemorated the tiny country on the West Coast of India which was liberated from Portuguese rule in 1961.
Religion too, as expected, plays a big part in the naming of streets in Portugal with saints – Santo Antonio, São Pedro, São João – and religious figures such as Our Lady of Fátima as well as various priests being remembered, although these tend to be more in the north and interior of Portugal.
Extremely popular with over 500 roads dedicated to him alone is Luís de Camões (1521–1580), Portugal’s national poet who wrote the masterpiece Os Lusíadas, extoling Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the sea route to India. He is closely followed by writers Fernando Pessoa, Eça de Queiroz and Almeida Garret who, between them, share over 400 roads. It is a wonderful way to remember those that made such a difference to our history.
Nowadays, roads are officially named by the local councils, but, historically, many acquired their names long ago and these names subsequently became official.
Early populations would refer to streets remembering people or a landmark and this is how they would be known. For example, Rua do Sapateiro (Cobbler’s Street) was so called simply because the local cobbler lived there. There are 20 throughways called Beco do Forno (Oven Alley), no doubt because that was where the village oven may have been located.
It was only in the early 1800s, with the advent of the postal service, that it became necessary to identify streets for the delivery of post and many continued with their traditionally known names that reminded the local community of their roots and history long after the original inspiration for the name was gone.
The saddest name reference I found was the small dead-end road near Lisbon’s Alcântara train station. It is called Triste Feia (Sad Ugly). The story is that three sisters lived on the street, and one was so ugly that men would run away, leaving her sitting miserably on her doorstep. She died “sad and ugly”, but she was never forgotten as even though nobody knows her real name, she is remembered and honoured with the street where she lived being named after her.
Each council has different wall plaques to display the road names and these in themselves are interesting. In Lagoa and Lisbon, they are plain marble squares whereas in Carvoeiro and especially in Tomar, they are lovely works of Portuguese tile art.
When I see the name of someone, I wonder who they were and what they did to receive this homage of having a road named after them, but, in a lot of cases, it is hard to find anything out.
However, near Caliços, Albufeira, there is a neighbourhood where roads are named after individuals in the medical profession and it is interesting to see their name, profession and dates e.g., Rua Amato Lusitano, Médico 1508–1568, which saves me wondering who they were.
As populations expand and more roads are created, so new names are needed with often a theme being used throughout a new neighbourhood. I was amused to see the name Rua do Povo do Burro (Road of the People of the Donkey) in the ‘newer’ Monte Dourado resort in Carvoeiro. When I first came to Carvoeiro that area was not populated, so I wonder where the name came from?
In my hometown of Lagoa, there are seven roads named after dates. April 25 is clearly evident as to its origin, but what about January 16 and 23, June 20, July 17, September 5 and 13? How great it would be if each council on their websites had a list of road names with their origin, as clearly something historical happened on these dates. My next project is to find out what!
So now you know!
https://ruas.openalfa.pt is an interesting site to research road names in Portugal
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing