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amarante

Amarante

Nestled in the valley of the Tâmega River 50 km from Porto is the city of Amarante, gateway to the Douro Region. The city of Amarante is renowned for its historic old town and legendary sites. The centuries old granite bridge over the Tâmega river is a legendary spot, reputed to have helped local forces fend off a French attack in the early 19th century. Today the bridge provides a stunning view on the surrounding mountains and the city centre itself. The city centre is full of historical sites such as Telões Church, Jazente Church, Gatão Church, Mancelos Church, Travanca Monastery, Lufrei Church, Real Church, Gondar Monastery and the Freixo de Baixo Monastery.

The city has cultural assets of national importance such as the Museum Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso, founded in 1947, with the aim to gather materials relating to local history and member artists and writers born in Amarante. Installed in the historic Dominican Convent of Sao Gonçalo de Amarante, the Museum was rehabilitated in 1980 by the renowned architect Alcino Soutinho and turned into modern facilities that today contain the collections of modern and contemporary Portuguese art, archaeology and ethnographic artefacts collected through the years in the region.

As is the case with many small cities in Portugal, the economic crisis had a major negative impact especially on the vitality of the city centre. The effects of the crisis include a lack of public funding that forced the Municipality to cut down on their investments, including the renovation of the Cine-Teatro complex52. A large number of small shops and companies in the city centre were not lucky enough to survive the economic crisis. As the national economy is showing gradual signs of recovery, the stakeholders in the city centre are keen to attract new businesses to the centre as a significant driver for growth of the city economy.
The city has a long history of manufacturing and serving as the market place for local agriculture. It has endured economic cycles in sectors such as furniture-making and tourism. The city today has a renewed confidence to exploit new economic opportunities, especially in developing new food products and thus continuing its tradition and reputation as a quality food and wine producing region. It has a number of agencies that support new start-ups and enterprises and together with the dynamic leadership of the Municipality, these agencies can create an eco-system for local entrepreneurs.

The enterprise incubator, EIT in the industrial park is a showcase of successful new businesses both in manufacturing and in the provision of services. These include craft breweries, packaging and distribution of local produce such as honey and mushrooms; design and IT support providers; as well as professional companies such as consulting engineers and architects. The regional and rural development agency, Dolmen is located in Amarante. The agency is instrumental in helping local wineries, food producers and artisan manufacturers to work together and benefit from a destination brand. One such example is the Rota do Românico to promote the Romanesque architecture of the region.

As part of its plans to expand mobility infrastructure, the Municipality developed a convenient and safe bike lane of almost 10 km utilising the disused old tramline. The bike lane was built with colourful earth tones, giving comfort and versatility to the city landscape (see picture above). Benches and litter bins have also been placed all along the route together with improved street lighting. This is an improvement in the quality of life for residents, but also an attraction for visitors.

The city’s population of 54,973 in 2014 shows a decline of 8.2% over the past 15 years. The population aged 65 years and older increased from 7,520 to 9,086 over this period and the older agegroup now makes up 16.5% of the total population. At the same time the younger generation in the age group 15 to 24 years have decreased over this period from 9,492 to 6,873, a fall of 27.6%. The educational attainment profile of the population indicates a large section of the population with low qualification levels as per the chart below.

Amarante and Porto is connected via the A4 motorway. Since 2009 there is no rail link anymore. Approximately 20% of the local residents commute daily to Porto for work or study55. There are also a number of other larger cities in commuting distance from Amarante including Braga (70 km), Guimaraes (53 km) and Vila Real (43 km). With a population in the Porto metro of 1.4 million, it however remains the largest magnet for business and shopping.
City officials believe that the biggest advantage that Porto bring to Amarante is spin-offs from its growing tourism market. Already the Douro valley port wine area is bringing more visitors to the region, and Amarante could be one of the destinations for excursions. Furthermore, once the new motorway between Porto and Spanish border opens in Spring 2016, the region will become much more accessible for visitors from Spain.

 

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