late 14c., "gate, gateway," especially "the entire architectural treatment of the entrance and its surroundings of a cathedral or other grand building," from Old French portal "gate" (Modern French portail) and directly from Medieval Latin portale "city gate, porch," from neuter of portalis (adj.) "of a gate," from Latin porta "gate," from PIE *prta-, suffixed form of PIE root *per- (2) "to lead, pass over." The medical sense of "place where a drug, etc., enters or leaves the system" is by 1910.
c. 1300 (mid 13c. in surnames), porte, "a gate, an entrance to a place, a portal; the gate of a town or fortress," also in names of specific gates, from Old French porte "gate, entrance," from Latin porta "a city gate, a gate; door, entrance," akin to portus "harbor," from PIE root *per- (2) "to lead, pass over." Old English also had occasional port in this sense, from Latin, but the Middle English word seems to be a new borrowing via French.
The meaning "porthole, an opening in the side of a ship" is attested from mid-14c.; in old warships, an embrasure in the side of the ship through which cannons are pointed. The medical sense of "place where something enters the body" is by 1908 probably short for portal. In computers, "place where signals enter or leave a data-transmission system," by 1979, from earlier use in electronics (1953) for "pair of terminals where a signal enters or leaves a network or device," which also probably is short for portal.
Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to lead, pass over." A verbal root associated with *per- (1), which forms prepositions and preverbs with the basic meaning "forward, through; in front of, before," etc.
It forms all or part of: aporia; asportation; comport; deport; disport; emporium; Euphrates; export; fare; farewell; fartlek; Ferdinand; fere; fern; ferry; firth; fjord; ford; Fuhrer; gaberdine; import; important; importune; opportune; opportunity; passport; porch; pore (n.) "minute opening;" port (n.1) "harbor;" port (n.2) "gateway, entrance;" port (n.3) "bearing, mien;" port (v.) "to carry;" portable; portage; portal; portcullis; porter (n.1) "person who carries;" porter (n.2) "doorkeeper, janitor;" portfolio; portico; portiere; purport; practical; rapport; report; sport; support; transport; warfare; wayfarer; welfare.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit parayati "carries over;" Greek poros "journey, passage, way," peirein "to pierce, pass through, run through;" Latin portare "to carry," porta "gate, door," portus "port, harbor," originally "entrance, passage," peritus "experienced;" Avestan peretush "passage, ford, bridge;" Armenian hordan "go forward;" Old Welsh rit, Welsh rhyd "ford;" Old Church Slavonic pariti "to fly;" Old English faran "to go, journey," Old Norse fjörðr "inlet, estuary."
1727, former title of the emperor of Japan, from mi "honorable" + kado "gate, portal." Similar to Sublime Porte, old title of the Ottoman emperor/government, and Pharaoh, which literally means "great house."
In Rome, the style of building used for halls of justice, many of which were subsequently appropriated as churches, and so it became a standard plan for new churches. The word is applied to the seven principal Roman churches founded by Constantine. The specific reference to Christian churches in English is attested by 1560s.