The history of Vila Nova de Gaia is very rich. With our eyes set on the Douro River, we suggest a brief return to the origins of this region blessed with natural beauty.
Located in the southern bank of the Douro River, Vila Nova de Gaia covers about 165 km2 (40772 acres) and has 290.000 inhabitants, who people its 24 parishes.
The district?s remotest origins go back to the Neolithic and stretch into the Roman civilisation.
The 1255 Charter granted by King Afonso III to the then village of Gaia narrates the first of many episodes which were to define the way of life in Gaia ? the organisation of lands, the settlement, the main economic activities.
In 1288, King Dom Dinis granted another Charter to the same village ? the Burgo Velho do Porto ?, which from then on was to be called Vila Nova de Rei.
Thanks to a huge anchorage and to the easy crossing to the city of Oporto, the riverside village of Gaia soon became an important shipyard and centre of commerce.
There were two neighbouring populations: Gaia (on the west) and Vila Nova (on the east). They were separated by the stream of Saint Antão and each had its own administration and its rulers. Despite these conditions, the two populations united and fought side by side whenever their common interests were at stake.
The above-mentioned interests were severely endangered in 1383, as the villages of Gaia and Vila Nova were partially integrated into the administration of Oporto city, therefore losing (even if temporarily) their political autonomy.
In 1518, King Manuel I granted a Charter to Gaia and Vila Nova, which emphasized the vigour of agriculture and the peopling of parishes with vast properties and considerable output.
During the second half of the 18th century, Vila Nova de Gaia became a town of fishermen, craftsmen, merchants and businessmen. In that time of prosperity, a significant number of foreigners settled in Gaia and bought houses and warehouses, which were used to back up the shipment of wines from the Douro region.
The wine business brought about changes not only in the economic system but also in the urban landscape: the ?Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro? was set in Vila Nova by order of the Marquis of Pombal.
The union of Vila Nova and Gaia, together with the surrounding rural parishes, and the consequent demand for political autonomy took place on the 20th of June 1834. This event gave ?birth? to the district of Vila Nova de Gaia as we know it today.
A wave of technological and economic development followed, namely the establishment of factories -- ceramics, metallurgy, cooperage, cork, glass -- and wine warehouses.
In this climate of progress, the people of Gaia made the first attempt to promote their village to city by sending a petition to Queen Mary II in 1841, in which they also requested a coat of arms. Since they didn't get a positive answer, the representatives of people of Gaia made another request, this time demanding only the coat of arms.
In 1850, the central government finally granted a coat of arms to the village of Gaia. It was in use until 1934, when it had to be altered due to disregard of the heraldic canons.
After few changes in the arms and flag of the village, only in 1984 the people of Vila Nova de Gaia saw their wish fulfilled: their village became a city, precisely on the 150th birthday of its establishment as a modern district.