Street Name History – Resident of Portugal


Walking around any town or city in Portugal, I like to see the names of the streets and then wonder how and why they got their name.

Names are usually given to a passage between two points and can be derived from politics, religion, history or community. Passageways can be roads, streets, avenues, squares, steps, alleys, alleys, etc., all named after an event, person, place, or thing. I will simply refer to each of them as roads or streets!

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between a road and a street? A road connects different cities or places while a street has buildings and exists in an urban area. In Portugal there are more than 276,000 arteries, high capacity urban roads, with more than 82,000 distinct names.

Carvoeiro Street

The Portuguese word for road is “rua”. Road names are accepted as fact and probably few people stop to wonder about them. However, I do!

Some names obviously commemorate an event like the revolution of April 25, 1974. In fact, 25 de Abril is a name that has been given to almost all crossing lane designations in Portugal.

Other names honor well-known figures such as the monarchy, although many of these have subsequently been replaced. Studying my collection of old postcards (1898-1913), I thought that the recipients had moved from Avenida Rainha D. Amélia to Avenida Almirante Reis in Lisbon. In fact, the avenue has had its name changed from honoring the queen to instead honoring the military “hero” instigator of the revolution who deposed the monarchy on October 5, 1910 and established Portugal as a republic. I thought it sad that the queen had lost that honour. There are more than 530 streets named 5 de Outubro in Portugal!

The Lisbon poet is honored
The Lisbon poet is honored

With Portugal’s political history, nationalism and military figures feature in many names. For example, I found 349 references honoring General Humberto Delgado who opposed dictator António Salazar and was therefore exiled and subsequently killed by Salazar’s secret police.

I couldn’t find any street named after António Salazar, however, did you know that the old bridge in Lisbon named Ponte 25 de Abril was once called Ponte Salazar? Built between November 1962 and August 1966, it is the 33rd largest suspension bridge in the world at 2227 meters long.

Pioneer of photography, politician and journalist
Pioneer of photography, politician and journalist

Of course, the age of Portugal’s discoveries influenced many road names, 512 honoring Infante D. Henrique, the prince who led the voyages of exploration that resulted in the colonization of Portugal in the North Atlantic and the ‘West Africa.

Likewise, throughout Portugal there are many roads named after settlements such as Rua Timor, Rua de Angola, Rua de Cabo Verde. I grew up near Cascais on Rua de Goa, which commemorated the small country on the west coast of India which was liberated from Portuguese rule in 1961.

Religion too, as expected, plays a big part in street naming in Portugal with saints – Santo Antonio, São Pedro, São João – and religious figures such as Our Lady of Fátima as well as various priests who are remembered , although these tend to be further north and inland in Portugal.

This road has changed its name twice!
This road has changed its name twice!

Luís de Camões (1521-1580), Portuguese national poet who wrote the masterpiece, is hugely popular with over 500 routes dedicated to him. Os Lusiadas, boasting of 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 more than 400 routes. It’s a wonderful way to remember those who have made such a difference in our history.

Nowadays roads are officially named by local councils, but historically many acquired their names a long time ago and these names later became official.

The first populations referred to the streets reminding people or a landmark and this is how they would be known. For example, Rua do Sapateiro (Shoemaker Street) was so called simply because the local shoemaker lived there. There are 20 passages called Beco do Forno (alley of the ovens), probably because that is where the village oven was located.

Republic Square of Tomar, formerly named after the king
Republic Square of Tomar, formerly named after the king

It was not until the early 1800s with the advent of the postal service that it became necessary to identify streets for mail delivery and many continued with their traditional names which reminded the local community their roots and history long after the original. the inspiration for the name was gone.

The saddest name reference I found was the small dead end road near Alcântara station in Lisbon. His name is Triste Feia (Sad Ugly). The story goes that three sisters lived down the street, and one was so ugly that the men ran away, leaving her miserably sitting on her doorstep. She died “sad and ugly”, but she was never forgotten because even though no one knows her real name, she is remembered and honored with the street where she lived which bears her name.

Each council has different wall plaques to display road names and these are interesting in themselves. In Lagoa and Lisbon, they are squares of rough marble while in Carvoeiro and especially in Tomar, they are beautiful works of Portuguese tile art.

When I see someone’s name, I wonder who they were and what they did to receive this honor of having a road named after them, but in many cases it’s hard to know what whether it be.

However, near Caliços, Albufeira, there is an area where the roads are named after individuals in the medical profession and it is interesting to see their names, professions and dates, for example, Rua Amato Lusitano, Médico 1508 -1568, which saves me wondering who they are. were.

As populations grow and new roads are created, new names are needed often with a theme used in a new neighborhood. I was amused to see the name of Rua do Povo do Burro (Donkey People’s Road) in the “new” resort of Monte Dourado in Carvoeiro. When I arrived in Carvoeiro, this area was not populated, so I wonder where the name comes from?

In my hometown of Lagoa, there are seven roads named after dates. April 25 is clearly obvious as to its origin, but what about January 16 and 23, June 20, July 17, September 5 and 13? It would be great if every council had a list of road names with their origin on their website, because clearly something historic happened on those dates. My next project is find out what!

So now you know! is an interesting site to search for road names in Portugal

By Isobel Costa
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Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pets! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, research and writing


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