Guimaraes, Portugal

We had a choice this day of hanging out around Porto on our own, or of heading north on an optional tour called The Medieval Portugal tour. We chose the latter. We would be heading to the Minho province, which is the northernmost part of Portugal, and is considered the green wine center of the country. During this trip we would be stopping in the towns of Guimaraes and Braga. The first stop was Guimaraes.

We heard the following trivia during the bus ride: The people of Porto are called the tripe eaters. They got this name at the beginning of the Age of Discovery, when they used to give away their best meat to the travelers and explorers, and had to consume the leftover tripe for themselves. Porto is now well known for their tripe dish. Francesinha is another dish that comes from Porto.

Guimaraes is named after Vimara Peres, a 9th century warrior who became the first Count of the County of Portugal, a county belonging to kingdoms of Galacia, Asturias and Leon at different times. This county was the basis of the formation of the Kingdom of Portugal in later years. According to this link, Guimaraes was the kingdom’s first capital.

Count Henry of the Portuguese House of Burgundy governed the County of Portugal during the early 12th century. He used Guimaraes as his base. Afonso Henriques, Count Henry’s son, became King Afonso 1, first king of Portugal. The declaration of Portugal as kingdom happened in 1139. At this time they separated themselves from the kingdom of Leon and Castile. They were formally recognized as an independent kingdom by Leon and Castille in 1143.

The longer history regarding the country of Portugal: The Celts were early invaders to the Iberian peninsula. The Roman invasion started in the 3rd Century BC. The Romans took over from the Carthaginians after the Second Punic war. The Germanic tribes, including the Suebi and the Vandals, and eventually the Visigoths, controlled the area from the 5th to 8th Century AD. The Moors came next when they conquered the Iberian peninsula. The Visigoths were able to defeat the Islamic conquerors in Asturias in the 8th century. This was considered the beginning of the Christian Reconquista. The Moors were finally fully vanquished from Portugal in the 12th century.

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Rush hour traffic was still in progress when we left Porto for Guimaraes.

The landscape in the countryside after leaving Porto included spring flowers,pine and eucalyptus trees, green vineyards and other signs of agriculture. Industries like textiles, timber (furniture), and food are said to be prevalent in this part of the country. Cities here are centers for services, e.g., banking.

We also encountered stop-and-go traffic as we entered Guimaraes from the highway. We were a little delayed in arrival. On the way to our first stop, we passed the city court with the Statue of Mumadona Dias in front.She was a 10th century countess of Portugal.

We were dropped off on a hill – near the 15th-century palace built by the first duke of Braganza.
The palace is located close to an old hilltop castle from the 10th century.There was a statue of Afonso I of Portugal, the first king of Portugal in front of the palace.We started our walk through town from the palace, heading downhill to a square in the medieval section of Guimaraes. We passed by the Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo (igreja means church), with the beautiful tile work on its exterior wall dedicated to The Virgin Mary.There was a park next to the church.

We arrived as a group at Oliveira Square (Largo da Oliveira).At this point we were given time to explore the town itself on our own.

We walked through the alleyways, squares, and other pathways of the medieval town. Here are some pictures.

It was still early in the day while we were there, and activities were just beginning to pick up in town. Restaurants on the side streets were still in the process of opening up for the day. The alleys – with the old multistory buildings with metal railings on the windows, plants growing in pots outside the windows, the hanging laundry, the displays in the storefronts on the ground floors for tourists, etc., gave a nice ambiance to the place.

The somewhat abstract statue in the gallery above is that of Afonso I of Portugal. The last picture in the gallery is of kids from a school on a field trip with their teachers. They were supposed to make a record (including drawings) of interesting things that they saw in their surroundings. (For some reason, the kids in the picture I took were facing a nondescript and uninteresting building that housed a hotel!) I noticed other groups of young people exploring on the palace grounds. It was good to see the young people being given such exposure to their internal history.

The church seen in the distance in two of the pictures – behind the fountain and the large garden – is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação e Santos Passos. I have also included a picture of the inside of another church, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Oliveira.

That was the end of the visit to Guirmaraes. We got back on the bus to head out to Braga.

Portugal

We returned a few days ago from a visit to Portugal. We were on an organized tour exploring the country from north to south, starting from the city of Porto and ending up in Lisbon. We stopped at many interesting places along the way, learning about the country, and experiencing it. We spent hours wandering leisurely through narrow old cobblestone streets of many an old medieval town, streets that were lined with old buildings of character – with their distinctive metal railings and the occasional laundry hanging out to dry. We also visited bigger and more developed cities and experienced the difference between the new and the old. There is something fundamentally similar about the tourist experience wandering the streets of both the older and newer towns in Portugal regardless.

We visited many old churches – in different styles, monasteries with their dormitories and cloisters, palaces, and castles – all over the country. We even passed through a national park, drank many a bottle of wine with our meals, and also sampled the unique cuisine of this small country, which we were told was about the size of Maine! We learnt about their history, which perhaps bears some similarity to the history of many other countries in Europe – the movement of people, the conquests, the local kings and queens and their kingdoms, the development of nation states, the nature of their explorations of the rest of the world, etc.. We learnt about the kind of things – their stories, products, etc.. – that are a part of their culture and their economy.

The towns that we visited were typically full of tourists just like us. The towns centers and their squares were full of shops for tourists, cafes, bakeries, ice cream stands and restaurants – with outdoor seating under the large umbrellas that provided shade. There were the street entertainers. There was generally a atmosphere that I typically do not experience when visiting towns in the US. I especially enjoyed having that cold beer with my lunch, perhaps concluding the lunch with a shared dessert and a cup of espresso.

And, all along the way, there were other unique experiences and quirky stories that added additional sparkle and spice to our travels.

One has to eventually breakdown the details of these travels further, but a list of the places we visited, with a few sample pictures is perhaps a good place to start.

Porto and Gaia

Guimaraes and Braga

Bussaco Park and Palace Hotel

Coimbra

Fatima

Tomar

The Convent of Christ on the Hill

Castelo de Vide

Evora

Lisbon

Cascais and Sintra

Alcobaca, Nazare and Castelo de Óbidos

They have a saying in Portugal that the Portuguese go to Porto to work, Braga or Fatima to pray, Coimbra to study and Lisboa to party! They have it all covered!

It was a fun trip, and quite a different experience from that of the trip to Morocco.