Braga is a city and a municipality in the northwestern Portuguese district of Braga, in the historical and cultural Minho Province. The municipality, which includes 37 civil parishes had a resident population of 181,494 inhabitants (in 2011), representing the seventh largest municipality in Portugal (by population). Its agglomerated urban area extends from the Cávado River to the Este River. The city was the European Youth Capital in 2012. It is host to the archdiocese, the oldest in Portugal. Under the Roman Empire, known as Bracara Augusta, the settlement was centre of the province of Gallaecia. Braga is also the third largest metropolitan area of Portugal behind Lisbon and Porto, as well as a major hub for inland Northern Portugal.
A 16th-century map of Braga, when the city was enclosed by its mediaeval wall. The large building in the centre is theCathedral, while the Episcopal Palace and courtyards can be seen above the cathedral and the ancient Castle of Braga
Human occupation of the region of Braga dates back thousands of years, documented by vestiges of monumental structures starting in the Megalithic era. During the Iron Age, the Castro culture extended into the northwest, characterized by Bracaripeoples who occupied the high ground in strategically located fortified settlements (castrum). The region became the domain of the Callaici Bracarii, or Bracarenses, a Celtic tribe who occupied what is now northern Portugal, Galicia and Asturias in the north west of Iberia.
The Romans began their conquest of the region around 136 BC, and finished it during the reign of Emperor Augustus. The civitas of Bracara Augusta was founded in 20 BC; in the context of the administrative reorganization of these Roman acquisitions, Bracara was re-dedicated to the Emperor taking on the name Bracara Augusta. The city of Bracara Augusta developed greatly during the 1st century and reached its maximum extension around the 2nd century. Towards the end of the 3rd century, Emperor Diocletianus promoted the city to the status of capital of the administrative area Conventus bracarensis, the south western area of the newly founded Roman province of Gallaecia.
During the Germanic Invasions of the Iberian Peninsula, the area was conquered by the Suebi, a Germanic people from Central Europe. In 410, the Suebi established a Kingdom in northwest Iberia, which they maintained as Gallaecia, and made Bracara their capital. About 584, the Visigothic conquerors of Hispania took control of Gallaecia. They renounced the Arian and Priscillianist hearesies during two synods held here in the 6th century. As a consequence, the archbishops of Braga later claimed the title of Primate of Portugal, then a county, and for a long period, claimed supremacy over the entire Hispanic church. Yet, their authority was never accepted throughout Hispania.
Braga had an important role in the Christianization of the Iberian Peninsula. The first known bishop of Braga, Paternus, lived at the end of the 4th century, although Saint Ovidius (d. 135 AD) is sometimes considered one of the first bishops of this city. In the early 5th century, Paulus Orosius (a friend of Augustine of Hippo) wrote several theological works that expounded the Christian faith, while in the 6th century Bishop Martin of Braga converted the Suebi from Arianism to Catholicism. At the time, Martin also founded an important monastery in Dumio (Dume), and it was in Braga that Archbishopric of Braga held their councils.
The transition from Visigothic reigns to the Muslim conquest of Iberia was very obscure, representing a period of transition and decline for the city. The Moors captured Braga early in the 8th century, but were eventually repelled by Christian forces under Alfonso_III_of_Asturias in 868 and were definitely repelled by Ferdinand I of León and Castile in 1040. As a consequence, the bishopric was restored in 1070: the first new bishop, Pedro, started rebuilding the Cathedral (which was modified many times during the following centuries).
Between 1093 to 1147, Braga became the residencial seat of the Portuguese court. In the early 12th century, Count Henry of Portugal and bishop Geraldo de Moissacreclaimed the archbishopric seat for Braga, with power over a large area in Iberia. The medieval city developed around the cathedral, with the maximum authority in the city retained by the archbishop.
In the 16th century, due to its distance from the coast and provincial status, Braga did not profit from the adventures associated with the Age of Portuguese Discoveries(which favoured cities like Lisbon, Évora and Coimbra, seats of the Portuguese court). Yet, Archbishop Diogo de Sousa, who sponsored several urban improvements in the city, including the enlargement of streets, the creation of public squares and the foundation of hospitals and new churches managed to modernize the community. He expanded and remodelled the cathedral by adding a new chapel in the Manueline style, and generally turning the mediaeval town into a Renaissance city.
A 17th-century engraving of Braga, showing the walls of the city, which were slowly demolished to make way for new constructions
A similar period of rejuvenation occurred during the 18th century, when the archbishops of the House of Braganza contracted architects like André Soares and Carlos Amarante, to modernize and rejuvenate the city; they began a series of architectural transformations to churches and civic institutions in the Baroque style, including the municipal hall, public library, the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte and many urban palaces.
With the invasion of French troops, during the Peninsular Wars the city was relegated, once again, to a provincial status. But, by the second half of that century, with influence from Portuguese immigrants living in Brazil, new money and tastes resulted in improvements to architecture and infrastructures.