Settled during the period of the early Iberian castro culture, the territory of Viseu was populated by a series of cultures, that include the Romans, Suebs, Visigoths and Moors. During the Roman occupation of Iberia, Viriathus, rebel leader of the Lusitanians, is assumed to have lived for a time in territory. During the Middle Ages, the city often served as seat for Visigothic nobles (such as King Roderic), and is considered one of the probable birthplaces of Afonso Henriques, first King of Portugal.
Viseu is a regional economic hub with a strong wine industry and is the seat of international conglomerate Visabeira. Similarly, the city is a cultural center, home to the nationally acclaimed Grão Vasco Museum, seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Viseu, and pole of national universities, including the Catholic University of Portugal.
The origins of the city of Viseu date back to the Celtic period. With its Romanization, the settlement gained importance, being at the intersection of a series of Roman roads linking Mérida, Lisbon, and Galicia.
Viseu is associated with Viriathus, since it is thought that the Lusitanian hero may have been born in this region. After the Roman occupation of the peninsula, under the Visigoths, the settlement was elevated to the status of city and to the seat of a diocese by at least the 6th century.
The origins of Viseu extends to proto-history, when migrating groups settled the territory, including the Celts and Luistanians. Roman colonists settled in this territories during eras of prosperity and peace, leading eventually to Suebics, Goths and Muslim cultures. The Suebic peoples, by the middle of the 6th century, had already an established community, with a bishop that existed as the suffrage of Braga. With the arrival of north African Muslims, the Visigoths escaped the territory and refuged in the distant mountains of Asturias.
The lands of Viseu frequently switched hands between the Christians and Moors, and was definitely taken in 1058, due to the victory of Ferdinand I of León. But, his siege left such destruction that only in 1147-1148, during the Reconquista, that the Diocese of Viseu had the conditions to support a Bishop. For many years it had been absorbed by the Bishopric of Coimbra, due to the intervention of the priors, including S. Teotónio. Viseu began recuperating its importance as an urban centre; "rapidly, [it] recuperated its lost transitory brilliance or worsened its activities and differentiation social". It was another three centuries of laborious peace that allowed it to grow once more. It was following the death of D. Fernando, the Castilians sought to enforce (by force-of-arms), its rights to the lands/territories of the County of Portugal.
During Countship of Portugal, Viseu served as the seat of the Corte of Henry, Count of Portugal and Countess Teresa, who granted a foral to the city in 1123. Viseu is one of the possible birthplaces of their son Afonso Henriques in 1109. Following his successful defense of his hereditary rights, and supported by nobles and clergy, Afonso Henriques founded the kingdom of Portugal. Viseu was granted a new charter 1187, that was later reinforced by his grandson, King Afonso II of Portugal, in 1217.
During the 1383–85 Crisis, the city was besieged by the forces of Juan I of Castile, leading to King John I of Portugal starting construction on a series of defensive fortifications which would continue being built until the reign of King Afonso V of Portugal.
The city became part of a fiefdom, when Prince Henry the Navigator, son of King John I of Portugal, was made Duke of Viseu, in 1415.
In 1475, Vasco Fernandes, famed artist of the Portuguese Renaissance, was born in the city,
In 1513, King Manuel I of Portugal renewed the charter of Viseu and a series of works were taken on throughout the city, with the opening of the first square of the city, the Rossio.
In the 19th century, a new Municipal Palace was built in the Rossio, significantly altering the flow of the city, moving it away from the mediaeval center to newer parts of the city.
Viseu is approximately 50 km (31 mi) East of the Atlantic Ocean. Surrounded by a number of mountains - Leomil, Montemuro, Lapa, Arada, Estrela and Caramulo - the tops of which are covered with thick layers of snow in Winter time, the district is crossed by a network of rivers and streamlets.
The city of Viseu has an almost central position in relation to the District lying on the so-called Viseu Plateau (Port. Planalto de Viseu). It is surrounded by a mountainous system constituted to the north by the Leonil, Montemuro, and Lapa hills, to the northeast by the Arado hills, to the south and southeast by the Serra da Estrela and the Lousã hills and to the west by the Caramulo hills.
The Municipality is characterized by an irregular surface with altitudes ranging between 400 and 700 metres (1,300 and 2,300 feet). With a rough terrain, it has numerous water courses. These are found in three basins: the Vouga, the Dão and the Paiva.
Situated in a zone of transition, the concelho has several micro-climates. The Serra do Caramulo, located to the west of the city, plays an important role in climatic terms by lessening the influences of the western air masses (although the Mondego River's basin makes the penetration easier). Consequently, Viseu's climate is characterized by the existence of high temperature extremes, with cold and wet winters and hot and dry summers.
Viseu has a mediterranean climate that is between the warm and hot-summer classifications, with the 1981-2010 averages indicating it being just below the 22 °C (72 °F) isotherm. Its inland position and relative altitude contributes to cooler winters than in coastal areas of the country, as well as a relatively large diurnal temperature variation as well as lower averages than more low-lying inland cities in the central-north area of the country such as Castelo Branco. In spite of its inland position, the maritime influence is strong enough for there to be a seasonal lag resulting in September averaging similar temperatures as June for the 1981-2010 reference period. This also applies to October and May. However, temperatures drop sharply in November, resulting in a smaller lag for the winter season. July and August are the driest and hottest months, with daytime highs averaging 29.6 °C (85.3 °F) for both months. Winters are much wetter with an average December precipitation of 203.4 millimetres (8.01 in).
Administratively, the municipality is divided into 25 civil parishes:
Due to migration in the 1960s, Viseu suffered a great decline in its population. After the end of the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974), with the return of refugees from the Portuguese African colonies that achieved independence, and resulting economic and demographic growth, starting at the end of the 1970s, the municipality increased its population by about 10 percent, giving it an estimated population of 83,261 people. Afterwards, a stagnation set in, confirmed by the 1991 census which showed a population of 83,601.
Viseu is twinned with: Lublin, Poland
São Filipe, Cape Verde
The city and the region are famous for its wine (Dão Wine) and the Dão Wine institute, the Solar do Vinho do Dão can be found in the city. There is also an annual fair, the Feira de São Mateus. Furthermore, Viseu is also known for local handicrafts which include black pottery, bobbin lace, embroidery, and copper and wrought iron articles. With the good connections to major industrial centers and to the ports of Aveiro and Leixões, several industries have been installed in Viseu. Visabeira, a Portugal-based international conglomerate with interests in telecommunications, construction, industry, tourism, real estate and diversified services is headquartered in the city. Viseu also boasts a central hospital (Hospital of São Teotónio), two shopping & cinema complexes (the Fórum (2005) and the Palácio do Gelo (2008)), and numerous hostels and hotels in all categories.
The city of Viseu has a bus network - STUV - which operates several lines within the entire municipality and a recently installed funicular connecting the lower city with the upper city. The A25 motorway (former IP5) connects Viseu to the seaport of Aveiro and Guarda and then on to Salamanca in Spain. The IP3 and A24, connecting Coimbra with Chaves on the Spanish border, crosses Viseu from south to north. Until the nineteen eighties Viseu had railway connections with the coast, but these were closed.
Viseu is now one of the largest cities in Europe without a railway connection. Once it was connected to Aveiro (via the Vouga line, a narrow gauge railway), and Santa Comba Dão (on the Dão line, another narrow gauge railway), where it had connection to the Linha da Beira Alta (broad gauge; international). The Dão line closed to passengers in 1988.
The municipality has an airfield - the Viseu Airport (code VSE) in Lobato, parish of Lordosa, Viseu - that offers schedules commercial flights to some domestic destinations with Aero VIP.
Viseu is the location of the state-run Instituto Politécnico de Viseu which has higher education polytechnic schools of education, technology and management, and agronomy. The city's political and civic groups have been pressuring the national government to upgrade this school into a university, but its desire was never achieved. However, there are 2 private university institutions, the Universidade Católica Portuguesa and the Instituto Piaget. Furthermore, since the Bologna process, the difference between universities and polytechnics are less relevant, with the exception of some degrees like medicine, economics or law, that are only awarded in universities.
There are three secondary education (the Portuguese equivalent of High School) establishments: the Escola Secundária de Viriato, Escola Secundária Alves Martins and Escola Secundária Emídio Navarro.Vasco Fernandes (c.1475-c.1542), better known as Grão Vasco, one of the principal Portuguese painters of the Renaissance;
João de Barros (c.1496–20 October 1570), historian, most famous for his Décadas da Ásia ("Decades of Asia"), a history of the Portuguese in India, Asia, and southeast Africa.
Carlos Lopes (born 18 February 1947), is a former long-distance runner, winner of the 1984 Summer Olympics marathon, at the time it was the first Olympic hold metal and world record;
Manuel Maria Carrilho (9 July 1951) is a philosopher, academic and Socialist politician, as Minister of Culture (from 1995 to 2000);
Paulo Sousa (born 30 August 1970) is a former-footballer, who played as a defensive midfielder, and later coach for Italian club ACF Fiorentina;
Álvaro Santos Pereira (born 7 January 1972) is an economist, professor, writer, as well as former Minister of Economy, Labour, Transport, Public Works and Communications of Portugal between June 2011 and July 2013.