What to see in the Historical City of Guimarães, Portugal

Guimarães, where Portugal was born!

The great Castle of Guimarães

Located not too far from Porto in northern Portugal is the historical city of Guimarães. Called the “cradle of the nation” by many, Guimarães is best known as being the first capital of the country that eventually became modern Portugal. It is also the birthplace of the country’s first King, Alfonso I. A premier party destination it is not, but Guimarães is one of the most historically significant cities in the country. That alone makes the trip up north worth it.

Sites to see in Guimarães , Portugal

Garden near Sao Gualter Church

So what is there exactly to see in Guimarães?

Guimarães Castle (Castelo de Guimarães)

Castle of Guimarães

The city of Guimarães is pretty much based around the famous Guimarães Castle (Castelo de Guimarães). Portugal’s history as a nation-state essentially started in this town. The city was a stronghold, both culturally and militarily, for the early Portuguese as they battled the Moors for control of the Iberian Peninsula. They built this castle in the 10th century to help defend the town from invaders, both Muslim and Christian. It is also believed that Portugal’s first King, Alfonso I, was born within its walls, making the castle something of a national shrine. The western part of the castle holds the Chapel of São Miguel where mass is performed in honor of King Alfonso I on his birthday.

Along with exploring the various parts of the castle, it’s possible to climb up to the top of a couple of the towers for great views of the city and the surrounding countryside.

Largo da Oliveira

Photo courtesy of topguimaraes.com

The is Guimarães central and most popular city square. Named after a centuries-old olive tree, the Largo da Oliveira is surrounded by traditional, old-world style houses typical of northern Portugal as well as some interesting monuments. One of the latter is the Padrão do Salado, an old Gothic structure with a medium-sized pillar supporting a cross. This shrine was built to commemorate the joint Portuguese-Castilian victory against the Moors at the Battle of Salgado in 1339. The other large structure in the vicinity is the Church of Our Lady of Oliveira (Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira). This church is on the site of what was once a monastery believed to have been founded by none other than King Alfonso I. The church was renovated and its current form is due to King João I in honor of another victory, this time against a Castilian army at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385.

One can also check out the Museu de Alberto Sampaio which houses medieval and Renaissance-era silver-work. Largo da Oliveira is probably also the best place to people watch in Guimarães.

Paço dos Duques de Bragança

The name literally means “Palace of the Dukes of Bragança,” the family from which the first dynasty of Portugal is descended from. Completed in 1442, the palace is notable for its medieval French-style architecture. It is possible to take a tour of the premises and venture into some of the rooms that contain many historical luxury items including ornate medieval weapons, Flemish tapestries, Persian rugs and a few interesting paintings.

Citânia de Briteiros

Though not exactly in Guimarães (it’s about 15km outside the city), the Citânia de Briteiros is worth the trip for hardcore archaeology enthusiasts. This is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Portugal and was established in 500 BCE by a group of people known as the Celtiberians (Celts of Iberia). The town was later absorbed into the Roman Empire around 20 BCE and contained at least 150 stone houses with paved streets, sewage systems, fountains and other water conduits. At the site is the Museu Martins Sarmento, a small museum housing ancient jewelry, pottery shards and other artifacts that were dug up here during excavation.

Citânia de Briteiros Official Site

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