Guimarães is a city with a glorious historical past. Its history is connected to the foundation of the Portuguese national identity and the Portuguese language, way back in the 12th century. The city has preserved its past as hometown of Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal who was born in 1110. Also in this same location, the King has begun the offensive quest against the Moors. Guimarães has an impressive historical centre with a unique architecture, a labyrinth of narrow streets and picturesque squares surrounded with medieval buildings. The whole historical centre has been classified as “World Heritage” by UNESCO in 2001 and is therefore included in their list of world heritage sites.
However, this town stands out not only for its historical treasures: it is also home to museums, plazas filled with cafés and restaurants with an extraordinary atmosphere. Furthermore, Guimarães is a “College City” and its students bring life to the entire region. Important to highlight is the celebration of youth’s “Gualterianas and City Festivities” where an ancient market is held, with popular dances, rock concerts, fireworks, parades and bullfighting.
The city also gains a special environment during the “Afonsina Festivities”: a medieval market taking place in June. In November, one of country’s biggest Jazz festivals, with a duration of three weeks is performed, also in Guimarães. Some mandatory visiting places for those passing by through this city are: Palace of Duques de Bragança, Castle of Guimarães, Church of São Miguel do Castelo, Praça São Tiago, Gardens of the Palace of Vila Flor, Nossa Senhora da Oliveira Church, São Francisco Church , São Gualter Church , Alberto Sampaio Museum and the Martins Sarmento Archeological Museum.
A little further away from the city centre, the cascading gardens with Summer Houses and rocaille decoration, at the Vila Flor Palace and Cultural Centre, are well worth a visit; as is the Baroque Church of Nossa Senhora da Consolação e dos Santos Passos at the far end of Largo da República do Brasil.
For another view of the city you can go up in the cable car to Monte da Penha, to enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramas in the north of Portugal, where you will find the Shrine of Our Lady of Penha. Discover what to see and do and the best places to visit in Guimarães!
1. Castle of Guimarães
The castle´s presence evokes the exciting mixture of legend, poetry and heroism that surrounds the beginning of Portuguese history. On this Monte Largo (Broad Hill) – referred to as alpis latitus in the Latin documents of the time – the nucleus of the future nation of Portugal was first developed. In circa 968, Mumadona, the countess of Galicia, ordered a castle to be built on this site, where the population could seek refuge from the constant attacks unleashed upon them by the hordes of Vikings, who arrived by sea from the north of Europe, and the Muslims, who made raids from the territories that they occupied to the south.
On taking over the governorship of the province known as Portucalense from his father-in-law, Alfonso VI of León, Count Henry ordered another larger and more solid construction to be built. This represented the beginning of the important defensive structure that we can now see today, dominated by the square keep that stands between the four towers guarding each of the four corners of the walls. Although this is not strictly documented, it is very likely that the building that stands against the inner part of the northern wall was the residence of Count Henry and the birthplace of his son Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.
2. Palace of Duques de Bragança
The Palace of Duques de Bragança is located above the historic center of the city of Guimarães, in the North of Portugal. Its construction dates back to the VX century, ordered by Dom Afonso (illegitimate son of Don João and Lady Inês Pires Esteves), 1º Duke of the House Bragança and 8º Count of Barcelos. Its towers and cylindrical chimneys stand out from almost any point of view of the historic center.
The palace suffered an intense deterioration for some centuries, as the supreme family that lived there moved to Vila Viçosa, in Alentejo. This building was then fully restored in order to be used as a presidential residence for Salazar. Nowadays, it still retains many of its original relics. When visiting the Palace you can see many of its rooms and observe their Flemish tapestries and ancient weapons (15th and 16th centuries). And still inside the Palace, you can admire a chapel with stunning stained glass windows.
3. Old town of Guimarães
According to legend, in this land was born in 1109, the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, at a time when Guimarães was a small medieval urban settlement protected by a castle of stone and wood. The urban agglomeration inside the walls was changing throughout the Middle Ages, to stabilize and homogenize in the eighteenth century. And there can be no better way to appreciate an ancient city than to understand it as a “set” sedimented in time. In fact, more than of monumentality, in Guimarães one can speak of an “atmosphere” created by the sombre roughness of the granite, contrasting with the vivid colors of the plaster.
This atmosphere is marked by emblematic monuments for the history of Portugal – to the point where Guimarães has become one of the largest national “places of memory” – such as the Castle (XII-XIII century) and the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança (15th century ). In the 21st century, Guimarães gained a new dimension and added new spaces and cultural facilities, presents a strong and contemporary cultural agenda and offers unique and surprising experiences to the inhabitants and visitors. Guimarães combines harmonious and unique memory and tradition with openness, cosmopolitanism and contemporaneity.
4. Citânia de Briteiros
From the second millennium BC, the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula was populated by human communities organized in tribes that inhabited elevated places that was given the name of “castros”. Due to the similarity of the settlement built in several different points, it can be said that a “military culture” was developed in this area, from the Portuguese Minho to Galicia and Spanish Asturias, which reached its apogee in the 19th century. II a.C., and of which Citânia de Briteiros is one of the most significant examples. The fact that these cities are located in high points of the territory allowed the populations to defend themselves better of the intruders and to observe the movements strange to the community, which explains that, despite the romanization, some only disappeared in the century. V d.C., when the peninsula was invaded by peoples of northern Europe.
Located a few kilometers from Guimarães, on the top of the hill of São Romão on the magnificent valley of the River Ave, Citânia de Briteiros will surprise the visitor, both for its scenic beauty and for the vestiges left by these our forefathers of protohistory. On the site, we can see the still incipient features of the organization of a “city” in the streets protected by a set of walls that surrounder the houses in circular or rectangular plan arranged sometimes in small “blocks”, including dens for the cattle. One of the most significant monuments in the Citania was discovered in 1930, when the road leading to the hill was opened. This is a crematory where the furnace’s façade consists of a pentagonal stele showing the incision of two swastikas with curved arms, with an opening in a hemicycle for the passage of the body.