I’m back with yet another series of photographs from my three week father/daughter trip to Portugal back in December 2022 – January 2023 (and yes, I know we’re in September now). So without further delay, let’s get right to our next stop, Guimarães and its historic town center which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
When last we spoke, my daughter and I were descending the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) after leaving Porto. We would then drive up to the birthplace of “miña nai”, Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, and spend Christmas with “mi familia Galega”. After two days, we were heading back down to Lisbon with a few stops along the way.
Our first stop was Guimarães, which was settled in the 9th century(!) It is often referred to as the “birthplace of Portugal” or “the cradle city” because it is widely believed that Portugal’s first King, Afonso Henriques, was born there, and also due to the fact that the Battle of São Mamede – which is considered the seminal event for the foundation of the Kingdom of Portugal – was fought in the vicinity of the city (on June 24, 1128).
We would check into the lovely boutique Hotel da Oliveira (highly recommended!), located within the historical Guimarães city center. The following morning (with rain clouds already forming), we began our exploration of what would become one of my favorite cities in Portugal.
Our first stop was the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira (Church of Our Lady of the Olive). The church’s origins go back to a Benedictine monastery founded on the site in 949 by Countess Mumadona Dias (the most powerful woman of her time in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula). In the 12th century the building had a Romanesque makeover but little remains from this period.
The church was again renewed in the 14th century, this time in Gothic style, and was designed by the master builder Garcia de Toledo. Its construction was commissioned by the king Dom João I in fulfilment of a vow that he had made to the Virgin Mary in gratitude for his victory at the Battle of Aljubarrota.
The magnificent High Altar dates from the late 18th century and the Baroque paintings in the church are by the artist Pedro Alexandrino de Carvalho (1729-1810)
We exited the church and walked right into the Largo da Oliveira (Olive Square), which owes its name to the centuries-old olive-tree divinely sprouted on this same site (more on that in a bit). Surrounded by picturesque houses that are typical of the north of Portugal, it is the ideal starting point for a walking tour of the city´s streets.
The Padrão do Salado, located in the square, was erected in the 14th century on the initiative of Afonso IV of Portugal to commemorate the victory in the Battle of Salado in 1340 (the usual Christians vs Moors affair that was common in those times). It has been classified as a national monument since 1910.
The medieval monument reputedly marks the spot where the great Wamba the Visigoth drove his spear into the ground beside an olive tree and refused to reign unless a tree sprouted from the handle.
Wamba, you see, was an ordinary farmer whom St. Leo, acting on divine intervention, approached and asked to take a seat on the throne of the Visigoth kingdom, which at that time was left without a ruler due to the death of their king (he had no sons). But Wamba wasn’t the least bit interested in taking charge of an entire kingdom. “Seek elsewhere your monarch. I prefer to rule over my fields”, said he.
So, in an effort to get himself out of the situation, he thrust his cane in the ground and said that he would only accept kingship if the stick turned green and, (you guessed it) an olive tree was born there.
The Paço dos Duques de Bragança (Palace of the Dukes of Braganza) is a medieval estate and former residence of the first Dukes of Braganza, one of the most important titles in the peerage of Portugal.
It was initiated between 1420 and 1422 by Afonso, Count of Barcelos, the illegitimate son of John I of Portugal after his marriage to his second wife. John I, also called John of Aviz, was King of Portugal from 1385 until his death in 1433. His descendants would occupy the palace until the Dukes of Braganza moved to Vila Viçosa, abandoning the palace.
The 16th Century marked the beginning of period of ruin when rock and stone from the palace was requested to construct a monastery and then a convent. With more and more of its stone taken for construction in the city and its re-purposing as a barracks in 1807, by the beginning of the 20th century, the medieval structure was irredeemably corrupted.
However, a radical restoration was started in 1937, under the architect Rogério de Azevedo, which was both restorative and controversial. The restoration was based on the analysis of other medieval palaces of the period, but influenced by the monumentalism of the period architects – implying a grandeur that may not have existed.
By 24 June 1959, the new Palace of the Dukes of Braganza was inaugurated and finally open to the public.
A bronze statue of Afonso Henriques (Afonso I of Portugal, nicknamed “The Conqueror”, and first king of Portugal) that was built in 1888 was transferred to the entranceway of the Palace in 1940.
The interior contains collections of furniture, carpets and copies of the Pastrana tapestries (four large tapestries commissioned by king Afonso V of Portugal to celebrate the successful conquest of the Moroccan cities of Asilah and Tangier by the Portuguese in 1471). The original ones may be found in the Pastrana Collegiate, in Spain). It’s well worth a visit.
The Castelo de Guimarães was built under the orders of Mumadona Dias, in the 10th century to defend the monastery from attacks by Moors and Norsemen. Dias was a Galician noble and Countess of Portugal, who ruled the county jointly with her husband from about c. 920 and then on her own after her husband’s death around 950 until her death in 968. She was the most powerful woman in the Northwest of the Iberian peninsula.
Its area is delineated by walls forming a pentagram, similar to a shield, that includes eight rectangular towers, military square and central keep. Restructuring and additional improvements (not to mention the various wars that were in fashion during that era) took place throughout the 11th & 12th centuries and by the second half of the 13th century, the Guimarães Castle finally acquired its present form.
By that time, however, the kingdom’s borders were already relatively safe, giving it an increasing secondary role.
By the early years of the 16th century, the Guimarães Castle began to be neglected and decayed. As it had no military role, it began to be used as a prison. By 1836, the councilmen of Guimarães were already looking to demolish the castle and reuse the stone to repave the roadways.
However, on March 19, 1881, the Diário do Governo (Official Journal) listed the Guimarães Castle as the most unusual historic monument of the whole region leading to attempts at restoration. In 1910, the castle was declared a national monument and in 1937, the General Service for National Buildings and Monuments started its restorations.
On June 4, 1940, the once decayed castle was re-inaugurated and is today one of the most iconic medieval castles in Portugal.
One of Portugal’s prettiest baroque churches, the Church of Our Lady of Consolation and the Holy Steps rises up at the end of the Lago da República do Brasil, an elegant formal garden.
The origins of the church date back to a small hermitage, dedicated to Our Lady of Consolation, built in March 1576. The new church, an exemplar of Baroque spatiality in Guimarães, was completed in October of 1785.
The building was topped by two pointed towers almost a century later. The steps and balustrade were added at about the same time. The interior is neoclassical, albeit unspectacular but the exterior of the church (and the garden) is stunning.
The Igreja de São Francisco (Church of Saint Francis) dates back to the early 15th century when John I of Portugal ordered the building of the convent, in the place where it still stands.
It would undergo several modifications over the subsequent years. The interior of the church has a single nave with side chapels that was renovated between 1746 and 1749.
Guimarães is an absolutely enchanting city – one I highly recommend visiting. And December is a lovely time to visit Portugal as you can see in the photographs below. As we checked out of the Hotel da Oliveira (a wonderful boutique hotel) and headed south to our next city, I considered it my favorite city of the trip so far. Would it stay that way? SUBSCRIBE HERE to find out…