The German

Pipe Organ - Cathedral
Photo:  António AmenCC BY-NC-SA - Some Rights Reserved

​The first visitors

In 1147 several boats with German and Flemish crusaders passed by Porto. The crusaders were persuaded by the city’s bishop to help King Afonso Henriques free Lisbon from the Moors.

Germans in Porto

Porto has always been a welcoming and a settling place for people of other nations. From the late sixteenth century the city had a consul to represent the many German and Flemish subjects - who were mostly merchants - living in Porto. A resident merchant held the position of consul. There were also interpreters. Their services were needed when foreign boats arrived and the City Council established that an interpreter should be married in the city and be a person of good manners and worthy of confidence.

Typographers, bookbinders and booksellers

Booksellers and typographers contributed to the cultural expansion and diffusion in Portugal. The first news of a typographer’s activity dates back to the year 1465. In the second half of the fifteenth century, the bookbinder João Tomé, of German origin, worked for the City Council and was granted several privileges by King D. Manuel. In the late eigteenth century, a German firm - “Tranode and Co.” - based in Rua das Flores, dealt, simultaneously, in the commerce of musical instruments and publications, and was a trustee of the Lisbon periodical “Jornal de Modinhas.”

Commercial relations

Since early times Porto established commercial contact with several cities, today on German territory. The commercial trade grew after the Contemporary Age with the exportation of products originating from America and of Port wine. Numerous German merchants settled in Porto in the hope of acquiring commercial facilities and regal privileges that were indeed granted to many. Franz and Gerhard Burmester, great merchants born in Porto and of German ascendancy, were worthy of notice in the nineteenth century.

D. Maria II’s marriages

Portuguese kings and queens married illustrious representatives of German noble families.

The first marriage of Queen D. Maria II was to Prince August von Leuchtenberg. The union was planned when D. Pedro still held the Brazilian imperial sceptre. The wedding was celebrated in December 1834 but the prince died a few months later.

The second marriage was to D. Fernando. Thanks to his German education and to his artistic sensibility, he became a cultivator of Painting and of Music, was a protector of scholars and artists and ordered the restoration of several monuments.

“The fairy that Germany sent to Portugal”

German by birth and heart, Carolina Wilhme Michaelis de Vasconcelos was also a true Portuguese - through marriage and through her dedication to her adoption country.
Born in Berlin in 1851, she settled in Porto in 1876, a city where she would live for nearly fifty years. Her linguistic and historic research works and her philological studies were models of erudition and critical knowledge and a reason for the admiration of the Portuguese intellectuals. She became an honorary member of several scientific societies and was an “honoris causa” member of the Universities of Freiburg, Coimbra and Hamburg. In 1901 she was decorated with the officer position of the Saint James Order. During the republican regime she was appointed professor at the Lisbon’s Faculty of Arts, where she never taught. Instead she moved to Coimbra since it was closer to Porto, where she has always lived at Rua de Cedofeita.In the poetical words of Menendez y Pelayo, she was “the fairy that Germany sent to Portugal”.

The cathedral’s photographer

A German photographer, regarded as one of the predecessors of Photography in Portugal, Emilio Biel came to Porto in 1860, at the age of 22. He became the owner of several photography ateliers: the former “Casa Fritz,” at Rua do Almada and, later, the “E. Biel & Cia.” in Palácio do Bolhão, at Rua Formosa. He was also a “photographer of the Royal House,” at the time of King D. Fernando von Saxe Coburg, who was also a German. As a result of his frequent journeys through the country, Biel published in Porto, among others, an eight-volume work: “A Arte e a Natureza em Portugal” - with one chapter totally dedicated to Porto. His assets, today owned by the Porto’s Municipal Historic Archive, include images of a technical, aesthetical and documentary high quality.A multifaceted personality and a lover of all the technological innovations which appeared at that time, he distinguished himself in several activities: he was responsible for the electric light fittings in Vila Real and Porto, he was manager of the Gerês Water Company, he drove the first tramway from Batalha to Devesas, and installed the first telephone in Porto. Besides this interest for technological innovation, Biel was also an animal collector. His collection of butterflies can be seen at the Porto’s University Zoology Museum. This collection is regarded as one of the biggest in the world. He died at the age of 77, on 14 September 1915.

Musical exchange

Guilhermina Augusta Xavier de Medina Suggia, whose parents were Portuguese but of Spanish and Italian ascendancy, was born on 27 June 1885 at the parish of S. Nicolau, Porto, at Rua Ferreira Borges. She started playing the cello quite early and in 1901 she left to Germany. There, under the guidance of Julius Klengel and for several years, she developed the mastery later recognised worldwide.

Oscar da Silva, another Porto-born composer and pianist, had a great success in Leipzig, Bremen, Berlin and other international centres.

The great pipe organ of the cathedral

An instrument of great liturgical, cultural, social and, presently, tourist importance, the organ was very much used in past centuries. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth-century, Porto was a brilliant centre for organ constructors, a tradition nowadays lost. The idea of a pipe organ at the Cathedral appears in 1981, after a musical action that enlivened the city. After consulting several companies, the organ was built by the firm Georg Jann, Allkofen, from Regensburg, following the technical advice of Professor Franz Lehnrdorfer, professor of Organ at the Munich University. A handicraft work, it took three years to build the organ. It weights 25 tons and it is composed of 3.510 pipes, 48 registers, 6 couplings, one console table with three keyboards and a pedal, having been built with the best wood and the best tin alloys. It was inaugurated on 19 and 20 October 1985.

Published 13-09-2013
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