Casa do Infante
History and museums
The Casa do Infante (Prince's House), also known as the Alfândega Velha (Old Customs House) is a historical house in the city of Oporto, in Portugal. The house was originally built in the 14th century as customs and mint, although its present condition derives mostly from a remodelling carried out in the 17th century.
Its name derives from the tradition that it was in this house that Prince Henry the Navigator was born in 1394. The Casa do Infante is located in the historical centre of Oporto, designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO
The mediaeval customs house of the city of Oporto started being built around 1354 under King Afonso IV in the context of disputes between the king and the Bishop of Oporto. The king's intention was to charge taxes for goods carried by ships navigating the Douro river, thereby reducing the power of the bishop. The new Royal Customs House was built near the river (Ribeira) and included a mint, storage house and living quarters for the employees. Archaeological excavations revealed that the building was large and had two high towers linked by a courtyard. Starting in the 15th century, the customs house has undergone several expansions and remodellings that have greatly altered its original structure.
The most important remodelling occurred in 1677 under King Peter II, when the customs house was virtually rebuilt. The inner courtyard was kept, but the towers were greatly reduced in height, while the front building, facing the street, gained two extra storeys, with a large staircase leading to the living quarters in the second floor. The front building incorporated the functions of the towers. The storage houses were greatly enlarged. This 17th-century remodelling is celebrated on a commemorative plate in the courtyard dated from 1677.
In the second half of the 19th century a new customs house was built by the river in the Miragaia neighbourhood, and the old customs house ceased its activities. The façade was again modified between the 19th and the 20th centuries, with the addition of a new storey. A plate commemorating Prince Henry's 500th birth anniversary was inaugurated on the façade in 1894. In the mid-20th century the house was restored by the state.
In the 1990s the whole complex was the subject of archaeological surveys that greatly helped understand the evolution of the building. Besides the mediaeval findings, the archaeologists found the vestiges of a large Roman building, including remains of mosaic pavement that can now the seen inside. The Casa do Infante now houses an exhibition about the history of Oporto (including a scale model of the city in the Middle Ages) as well as the Municipal Archive.
It is known by chronicler Fernão Lopes that Prince Henry was born to King John I and Queen Philippa in Oporto on March 4, 1394. Henry would later enter history as Henry the Navigator, sponsor of the Portuguese navigations during the Age of Discovery. Since the customs house was the only royal building in the city and that it had living quarters for the royal employees, it is likely that the court occupied the building and that Prince Henry was born there, something that would confirm a long held oral tradition.
In 1894, during the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Prince Henry, a Neo-Manueline commemorative plate was installed at the entrance of the building. Since then, Casa do Infante has been the official name of the building.