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The health flag has been immortalized in a metal rendition, but the column supporting it is the original one, Source: Porto Municipality / Filipa Brito

Did you know Porto introduced pandemic restrictions in the 17th century?

Did you know Porto introduced pandemic restrictions in the 17th century?

The Health Flag stone column still stays vigilant, nowadays as a monument

Pandemics, such as the one we are all collectively going through are nothing new to humanity and European cities have a long history of having to deal with them coming up in the process with peculiar rules, innovations and restrictions.

A potent reminder of this is the Bandeirinha da Saúde stone column which overlooks the Portuguese city of Porto and the Douro River below. Its name translates to a ‘little health flag’ referring to the piece of cloth which used to be raised some 400 years ago in times of plague epidemics to indicate to incoming ships that they will have to undergo inspection before entering the city.

Sanitary inspection and control

In a way, the flag, which was raised on the column at a point where it can be easily seen, was also an indicator that the city was healthy and it intended to stay that way. That did not mean cutting itself off from the surrounding world of trade and commerce. Quite the opposite, since it has always been a major point for the export of Portuguese wines – now you know where the word ‘port wine’ comes from, too.

Nowadays, you have to show a green pass to enter many facilities or countries, and the health flag was there to serve the purpose of a health facility at the customs.

1633 is the likely date for the completion of the construction of the granite pyramid which supported the flagpole, a work completed by master Bastião Fernandes, which still stays. Today, however, there is an iron flag mounted on top to serve as a reminder of these days. The flag station served its purpose for more than a hundred years.

Several centuries later, this object and the practice associated with it continue to arouse interest and curiosity. The "health flag" will be the protagonist of a session, promoted by the City Museum within the scope of the Sonda operative program - a cycle of conversations with guests around themes of the city of Porto's architectural, artistic or archaeological heritage.

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