As capital of the Beira Baixa, CASTELO BRANCO has an air of prosperity in contrast with many of the nearby villages. Unfortunately, that is about all it has – for the visitor at least – since little of interest survived the successive wars of this frontier area. The sixteenth-century former town hall and a few handsome mansions withstood the various battles, while narrow cobbled alleyways and stepped side streets lead up to the castle ruins, where a garden miradouro has been laid out. Otherwise, it’s a predominantly modern town of sweeping boulevards, squares and parks – pleasant enough, but hardly a major draw.
There are just two sights of note. Flanking one side of the remaining old town is the Jardim do Paço Episcopal, the eighteenth-century garden of the old bishop’s palace, where the balustrades of the two grand staircases are peopled with statues – on one, the Apostles; on the other, the kings of Portugal. Three of the latter are much smaller than the rest: the hated Spanish rulers, Felipe I, II and III, the so-called “intruder kings”. The palace itself now houses the Museu Tavares Proença Júnior, whose pride is its large display of finely embroidered bedspreads, or colchas. These lavish status symbols were originally produced in India and China where wealthy Portuguese commissioned them from local artisans. The craftspeople duly incorporated motifs from their own myths and culture – typically animals, flowers and mythical figures – which subsequently influenced Portuguese manufacturers in Castelo Branco.