Explore The Minho
GUIMARÃES never misses an opportunity to remind you of its place in Portuguese history. Birthplace of the first king, Afonso Henriques, in 1110, and first capital of the fledgling kingdom of “Portucale”, it has every right to be proud of its role in the formation of the nation. It was from here that the reconquest from the Moors began, leading to the subsequent creation of a united kingdom that, within a century of Afonso’s death, was to stretch to its present borders. Although Guimarães subsequently lost its pre-eminent status to Coimbra (elevated to Portuguese capital in 1143), it has never relinquished its sense of self-importance, something that’s evident from the careful preservation of an array of impressive medieval monuments and the omnipresent reminder “Portugal nasceu aqui” (Portugal was born here), the town’s motto. Today, despite its industrial outskirts, the centre of Guimarães retains both a grandeur and a tangible sense of history in a labyrinth of attractive, narrow streets that have earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. But it’s far from a museum piece – the local university gives it a youthful exuberance and lively nightlife, at its best during the end of May student week festivities.
The major event, however, is the Festas Gualterianas (for São Gualter, or St Walter), which has taken place on the first weekend in August every year since 1452. If you miss this you can catch most of the same stallholders and something of the atmosphere on the following weekend in Caldas de Vizela, a spa town 10km south of Guimarães.Read More
Citânia de Briteiros
Citânia de Briteiros
About 15km from both Guimarães and Braga is one of the most impressive archeological sites in the country, the Citânia de Briteiros. Citânias (Celtic hill settlements) lie scattered throughout the Minho: remains of 27 have been identified along the coast, plus sixteen more in the region between Braga and Guimarães alone. Most date from the arrival of northern European Celts in the Iron Age (c.600–500 BC), though some are far older, their inhabitants having merged with an existing local culture established since Neolithic times (c.2000 BC). The hilltop site at Briteiros, straddling the boulder-strewn hill of São Romão, was probably the last stronghold of the Celt-Iberians against the invading Romans, finally being taken around 20 BC and eventually abandoned in 300 AD.
The Roman historian Strabo gave a vivid description of the northern Portuguese tribes, who must have occupied these citânias, in his Geographia (c.20 BC). He records a lifestyle not far removed from the Minho today:
They lack wine but when they have it they drink it up, gathering for a family feast. At banquets they sit on a bench against the wall according to age and rank…When they assemble to drink they perform round dances to the flute or the horn, leaping in the air and crouching as they fall.
The excavations have revealed foundations of over 150 huts, a couple of which – beautifully sited at the top of a hill – have been rebuilt to give a sense of their design (though the doors are not considered to be accurate in scale). Most of them are circular, with benches around the edges and a central stone that would have provided support for a pole holding up a thatched roof. A few are rectangular in shape, among them a larger building which may have been a prison or meeting house – it is labelled the casa do tribunal. There’s also a clear network of paved streets and paths, two circuits of town walls, plus cisterns, stone guttering and a public fountain (the fonte). Most of these features are identifiable as you wander around the place, though the site is more evocative for its splendid location and extent than for any particular sights. Head uphill along rough cobbles – which can be hard going in the heat – for the best views, past enormous lizards and ancient olive trees. Another feature to head for is the bathhouse (a fair walk downhill to the left of the settlement entrance), with its geometrically patterned stone doorway. Carved lintels from the huts and other finds from the citânia are displayed at the Museu Martins Sarmento in Guimarães. There’s a smaller hoard of finds in the Museu da Cultura Castreja in nearby Briteiros.