Replanting the “Port Arthur” Stone Terraces and the Origin of the Name

This year the west facing slope of the iconic “Port Arthur” stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos has been replanted. It will take some three years until the stone terraces, now planted with Touriga Franca and Alicante Bouschet, will once again produce fruit of sufficient quality to be part of Graham’s Port.

The west facing slope of the Port terraces
The west facing slope of the Port Arthur terraces

In the meantime, the east facing side of the terraces has been producing excellent grapes and has been the source of some of the best Port ever produced in the quinta.

In the Douro Valley vines were traditionally planted on terraces supported by large dry stone walls known as socalcos. They serve to support the soil and to create a flat place to work, enabling the cultivation of the steep hillsides of the Douro region. It is for these stone walls, which demonstrate the level to which human activity has shaped and sculpted the natural beauty of the area, that the Douro Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

The east facing slope of the Port Arthur stone terraces
The east facing slope of the Port Arthur stone terraces

But why are the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos known as the “Port Arthur” terraces?

The hallmark of the iconic quinta, the concentric walls of the stone terraces, particularly evident on the west facing side, tower over the Douro River like a citadel. While these terraces are known as  “Port Arthur”, not everyone knows why.

The Port Arthur stone terraces
The Port Arthur stone terraces
Port Arthur, China. Exact date of photograph unknown (early 20th century)
Port Arthur, China. Exact date of photograph unknown (early 20th century)

The most likely answer is that they were named after the heavily fortified Chinese city of Port Arthur (now known as Lüshunkou or Lyushunkou District). Port Arthur was an important deep-water harbour for both military and trade, and from the end of the 19th into the 20th century was leased to Russia by China. As Russia’s only warm water port in the Pacific, control over it was essential, and the cities defences were bolstered by heavy fortifications and the presence of a garrison of 50,000 men and 506 pieces of artillery.

Japanese soldiers attacking the fortification at Port Arthur, Artist Unknown
Japanese soldiers attacking the fortifications at Port Arthur, Artist Unknown

Im 1904 these defences would come under attack as Port Arthur became a fundamental point of contention in the Russo-Japanese War. The brutal Siege of Port Arthur (April 1904-January 1905), and the ensuing battles, saw the Japanese Third Army assault the concentric lines of defensive fortifications built on the three hills that protected the harbour. The siege and the battles that followed ultimately resulted in the the destruction of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the loss of Russian influence in the region, and increasing political unrest in Russia itself. This would have placed Port Arthur, and its colossal fortification very much in the public consciousness, and it is very likely where the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos got their name.

Japanese soldiers assaulting the Port Arthur defences, with a detail of the Russian surrender. Kobayashi Kiyochika. Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Japanese soldiers assaulting the Port Arthur defences, with a detail of the Russian surrender. Kobayashi Kiyochika. Boston Museum of Fine Arts