TRANCOSO is still largely contained within an attractive circuit of medieval walls. It’s an uncommonly atmospheric little town, full of cobbled alleyways, well-kept gardens, shady squares and restored churches, all of which represent a tangible civic pride. It was here that Dom Dinis married the 12-year-old Isabel of Aragon in 1282, and later gave her the entire town as a gift; the wedding was solemnized in the small Capela de São Bartolomeu, not far from the town’s surviving main gate, the Portas d’el Rei, which is surmounted by the Trancoso coat of arms.
Like most planalto towns, Trancoso grew up around its castelo – and like any town with a castle, trouble was generally to be expected from one quarter or another. Even once the Moors had been finally vanquished, there were still centuries during which armies came and went across the tablelands, using Trancoso as a base or a defensive position. It’s surprising so much of the walls still stand – never mind that they remain in such good condition – while its well-restored towers can be seen from afar as you drive towards town.
Medieval Trancoso had a large Jewish community, which lived in relative harmony (as in the rest of Portugal) until the late fifteenth century when Dom Manuel I ordered their expulsion. The former rabbi’s house in Trancoso is known as the Casa do Gato Preto (House of the Black Cat), its facade featuring a prominent Lion of Judah. Other buildings in the old town also display features that hark back to a prosperous Jewish community quietly going about its business until religion and politics stepped in. The oldest houses, for example, have separate doorways, one for business and one used by the family, while others are marked with carved crosses, ordered by the Inquisition (active in Portugal from the 1530s onwards) to show that the inhabitants were “New Christian” converts.
Bandarra, the cobbler-prophet
Bandarra, the cobbler-prophet
The statue in Trancoso’s Praça do Municipio might at first seem puzzling – a gentleman with a cobbler’s last and shoe, and a rolled parchment in hand. It is the supposed likeness of the town’s most famous son, Gonçalo Bandarra, a humble sixteenth-century shoemaker given to versifying – and, more to the point, coming up with prophecies that predicted the end of the world and the return of a hero-like king to save Portugal. The Inquisition took a dim view of this sort of thing and Bandarra was punished, and his verses banned, but the prophecies took on a life of their own with the later destruction of the cream of Portuguese nobility at the battle of Alcáçer-Quibir in Morocco (1578). The young crusader-king Dom Sebastião – killed in battle – was held by many to be the hero-king who would one day return to free Portugal from the Spanish yoke, and Bandarra was posthumously elevated to the status of a Nostradamus figure. He was eventually honoured with a tomb in the town’s Igreja de São Pedro.