The old spa town of MONÇÃO, 16km east of Valença, still boasts a high defensive walkway that runs along the northern, river-facing side of town, offering superb views across the deep Minho valley into Spain. It’s a pleasant enough place to pause, centred round the mosaic-cobbled square, Praça Deu-la-Deu, where the seventeenth-century Igreja da Misericórdia contains some magnificent azulejos. There is also an attractive grid of narrow streets round the sixteenth-century Romanesque Igreja da Matriz which houses various tombs, including that of Deu-la-Deu Martins. The town has also received something of a boost with the renovation of its spa, which can be enjoyed in the Termas do Monção (wwww.tesal.com) just west of the old town on Avenida das Caldas. Otherwise the town is liveliest on a Thursday, market day, or during the local festivals of Corpo de Deus (Corpus Christi, usually second week in June) and Nossa Senhora das Dores (Aug).Read More
Two local women played a prominent part in Monção’s history and have given their names to many of the town’s streets. The principal figure is Deu-la-Deu Martins (the name means “God gave her”), a mayor’s wife, commemorated by a statue and fountain in Largo da Lorento. Her tale recalls a crucial moment in the fourteenth century when the Spanish troops had besieged the townspeople to the point of starvation. With their food store almost exhausted, surrender seemed the only option, but the Spanish had not accounted for the resilience of Deu-la-Deu. With the town’s remaining flour stocks mustered together, she baked some cakes and had them presented to the Spanish camp with an offer to “make more if they needed them”. Fortunately for the town, the Spanish had eaten all the bread they could handle and the psychological effect of the bluff was so great they promptly gave up and went away. Local pãozinhos (little bread cakes) are still baked in her honour.
A second Spanish siege, in the seventeenth-century Wars of Restoration, was relived in 1659 when the Countess of Castelo Melhor, perhaps inspired by earlier example, also resorted to psychological warfare. Aware that the Spanish were unlikely to fall for the bread trick again, she negotiated a ceasefire on condition that full military honours be given to her men. When the countess relinquished her 236 surviving fighters to the Spanish army, the enemy, oblivious of the town’s two thousand fatalities, assumed they had been kept at bay by this paltry platoon and duly retreated in shame.