We are part of the Douro's History
The Douro is a Portuguese Wine Region of indescribable beauty.
The Douro region received its first demarcation in 1756, at the hands of the Marquis of Pombal, acquiring over the years a prominent place among the regions.
Regarded as one of the grandest and most beautiful vineyard landscapes in the world, the Douro presents itself as a giant amphitheatre of schist and vines, one of Portugal’s most prolific wine producing regions.
In such a setting moulded by the force of human labour, only one of the finest and most fascinating wines on earth could be born. The oldest demarcated wine region in the world, it was recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site in 2001.
This classified area comprises 13 municipalities, which, in addition to the vineyards, provide the cultural and historical context in which the life of this region takes place. It is a rich area in terms of architectural heritage, which you will have the opportunity to admire when visiting the region.
In the midst of hills, farms and vineyards, large 18th century manor houses stand out, with their imposing façades that demonstrated the importance of the families that lived in them. However, talking about the Douro is not just talking about a region. It’s much more than that… it’s talking about its history and its people, which make it so special. Knowing the Douro is not just visiting the region, it is going on a journey to discover a unique place, with a unique history, culture and people.
The Douro River rises in the Sierra de Urbión, in northern Spain, at an altitude of about 2000 metres. It is the second largest river in Portugal with a total length of 927 kilometres; in Portuguese territory, this river is only 207 kilometres long and is navigable along its entire course thanks to the five dams which are also an attraction today due to their steepness: the dams of Pocinho, Valeira, Bagaúste, Carrapatelo and Crestuma. The Carrapatelo Dam has a water level drop of 35 metres, one of the highest drops in Europe.
It was this river, which was once very narrow and dangerous, that brought prosperity to the region, since it was through it that the precious nectar, Port Wine, was transported.
In centuries gone by, the river posed a challenge and a danger to those who navigated it. It was full of strong currents and half submerged rocks. At that time only a small wooden boat – the Rabelo – could navigate these waters and transport the wine from the Douro Valley to the mouth, on whose banks are the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia.
The Rabelo boat was a typical Douro River vessel used to transport wine barrels, being a mountain river boat with a length between 19 and 23 metres. The Rabelos had no keel and were flat-bottomed built with overlapping planks.
With square sails, it was usually handled by six or seven men. As for the masts, the first ones only used one, and later some appeared with a mast at the bow and a long oar at the stern – the espadela. When necessary, these boats were pulled from sirga tracks by men or oxen.
Capable of carrying up to 100 barrels of wine, the rabelos were instantly recognisable by their long, elegant steering oar. Incredibly brave and strong men made up the crew of each rabelo, all of them knowing that the next journey could be their last.
In order to sail once the rabelos needed to be positioned with great precision in the river, for once caught in the current, there was nothing left for the crew but to hope and pray that they would emerge unscathed into the calm waters that followed, whereupon the master in the quadrant would release the steering of the oar, remove his cap and then cross his arms exclaiming: “Now go with God”.
After the commitment and interest of Dª Antónia Ferreira, or Ferreirinha, the first railway in the Douro was completed in 1887. The rabelo was no longer the only option for transporting wine and bulky goods to the coast. Still, these brave vessels remained in business for many more decades.
It was the coming of the roads that changed this reality forever. The last commercial voyage of a rabelo is believed to have taken place in 1964.
However, we all know that without the rabelos and their brave crews, the wine trade would never have prospered, which is why all Douro people came together to save the rabelos from extinction.
Many built rabelos to remember their glory days, spreading them along the flow of the Douro River. Today, they are still used by tourists for trips on the Douro River.