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.