Braga, is a city in the municipality of Braga in northwestern Portuguese district of Braga, considered the oldest Christian archdiocese in the country and one of the oldest in the world. Under the Roman Empire, known as Bracara Augusta, the settlement was centre of the province of Gallaecia.
With a total urban population of 175,063 inhabitants, Braga is the third-largest city in Portugal (after Lisbon and Porto), including the city and suburban parishes; the municipality, which includes 62 parishes, has a population in 2011 of approximately 181,819 inhabitants (the seventh largest municipality in Portugal by population). Its agglomerated urban area extends from the Cavado River to the Easte River. Braga is also the seat of the Greater Metropolitan Area of Minho, which includes a population of 826,833 (2007 statistics), considered one of the fastest growing urban areas in the European Union.
In 2012, the city was awarded with the title European Youth Capital 2012.
The region of Braga has been inhabited since the Neolithic, but since Iron Age the Celtic Bracari occupied the territory, building their characteristic fortified villages (or castrum). It was the capital of the Callaici Bracarii, or Bracarenses, a tribe that ranged through what is now Galicia in northern Iberia.
The Romans began their conquest of the region around 136 BC, and 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 newly-founded province of Gallaecia.
During the Germanic Invasions of the Iberian Peninsula, power was brought back into the hands of the Sueves, a Germanic people from Central Europe. In 410, the Sueves established a Kingdom in northwest Iberia, which they maintained as Gallaecia, retaining Bracara as its capital. But, in about 584, the Visigothic conquerors of Hispania, who renounced the Aryan and Priscillianist hearesies during two synods held here in the 6th century, marked the beginning of a period of ecclesiastical expansion and importance. As a consequence, the archbishops of Braga retain the title of Primates of Portugal, and for a long period, claimed supremacy over the 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 Sueves 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 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 Gerald of Moissac reclaimed 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 similar period of rejuvenation occurred during the 18th century, when the archbishops 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 reglected, 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.
In the 20th century Braga faced similar periods of growth and decline; demographic and urban pressures, from urban-to-rural migration meant that the city's infrastructures had to be improved in order to satisfy greater demands.