They were centers of municipal power, strategic places for the defense of our borders, historic dioceses or, simply, picturesque places that make us feel in fairy tales. Today we will talk about the Historical Villages of Portugal, another route of interest for all those who feel interested in discovering the most profound and genuine interior of our country.
For mere geographical orientation, we will start at the westernmost strip and, in a first phase, we will move from north to south. The starting point will be Marialva's script and its castle. From the old county seat (1157 to 1855) there is only a small house protected by a rock castle and within its walls, in addition to the ruins of old houses, is the church of Santiago. The view from the castle, which covers neighboring villages, is excellent. Heading south we arrive at Trancoso, the only one of the 12 places with city status. Its historic center practically preserves the entire wall which was built by order of D. Dinis and which, together with his castle, is part of the defensive system of the old medieval town. From this wall, the doors of El Rey, which show the arms of the kings of Portugal, stand out for their monumentality.
Continuing down we reach Linhares da Beira. This parish, now owned by Celorico, was a municipality until 1855 (charter of 1169) and in it we can still see its impressive medieval castle at the top of a granite outcrop that dominates the landscape from far distances. From it you can see its interior walls as well as its Romanesque keep. Its granite houses are also a business card! To the southwest, always off the Serra da Estrela and reaching the Serra do Açor, we arrive at the idyllic village of Piódão. Seen in the distance, it seems to us an authentic village-crib, with its schist houses along a sloping slope of the mountain, in a black spot that is only interrupted by the whiteness of its mother church, whitewashed in blue and white. Of all the places on the list, it is the only one that is not protected by a castle, but there is no lack of reasons for a visit.
Leaving Piódão, we head towards the Serra da Gardunha until we reach Castelo Novo. In this charming village, we are absorbed by the coldness of its total granite architecture and with a certain monumentality. Arriving at Largo da Praça we find some of the ex libris of the locality - the old Casa da Câmara, the old Manueline pillory and the D. João V. fountain. Also of interest is the Cabeço da Forca, a place where formerly those condemned to death were executed. The next destination will be the village of Idanha-a-Velha. With a Roman foundation and a Suevic and Visigothic occupation, Idanha, or Egitânia, was the episcopal seat from the most distant times and the seat of the municipality until the end of the 19th century, when it lost that status to Idanha-a-Nova. We really like these famous replica watches very much.
At the patrimonial level, material testimonies of the various temporal periods abound: it preserves its wall and Roman doors, a bridge from the same period and a remarkable collection of aras and stelae from the Roman period; a suevo baptistery; the old Sé Catedral, built in the 9th century, the Templar tower, its Manueline pillory or the manor of the Morocco family. Also in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova is Monsanto. In 1938, the Estado Novo promoted a national contest to choose the most Portuguese village in Portugal, a contest won precisely by the village of Monsanto which, even today, proudly displays the Galo de Prata in the clock tower, authored by Abel Pereira da Silva, and that was delivered to the winning village. Here we can find multiple fountains that once supplied the population of the old municipality. There are also several chapels, of which we highlight the chapel of São Miguel, a temple built at the end of the 12th century. Among the houses, we will highlight the rooms of the doctor and writer Fernando Namora and the singer José “Zeca” Afonso. Seu pillory is a simple mark of the old municipal representation, and the ruins of its castle, destroyed in the 18th century, tell us well of the strategic importance that this village had in the past.
From an early age, the relative religious intolerance experienced in Portuguese society led these minorities to seek refuge away from urban centers. In Sortelha we can find some houses that once belonged to Muslims as well as the toponymy (example of Rua da Mesquita), but there is much more to visit here. In fact, this old town hall (12th to 19th centuries) maintains its medieval houses practically unchanged. Its landscape is marked by numerous granite boulders on which the inhabitants built their elongated houses in order to capture the sun's rays, which is why even today these houses are called "geckos". In Largo do Pelourinho, we find the Casa da Câmara and the old village chain that, together with the pillory itself, constitute an interesting set of the Manueline period. The Castle and the walls retain a large part of their old doors and sidewalks. In 1492, the Catholic Kings signed the edicts of the Alhambra and expelled the Jews from the Castilian territories. Part of that population leaves for Portugal in search of stability and will settle in the border populations where, with some hope, they hoped that this expulsion would be reversed. Not only was it not, but later Manuel de Portugal, under pressure from his Spanish neighbors, would also come to order the mandatory conversion of the Jews or their final expulsion.
Many of these communities risked a double life of false conversion (which would give the Inquisition a lot of work ...) and maintained their residences in the interior of Portugal, with Belmonte being the largest of these communities. There are two unavoidable themes when we talk about Belmonte: the Jews, and his most famous son in the world - Pedro Álvares Cabral. Here we will find the Bet Aliahu Synagogue and the Jewish museum, testimonies of a fundamental community in the demographic and economic fabric of the village. But we can also visit the Museum of the New World, dedicated to the discovery of Brazil, or if its discoverer had not been born here, and where you can also find the Chapel and Pantheon of Cabrais. As far as military architecture is concerned, we have to talk about the Castle, with its beautiful Manueline window, and the defensive tower from the Roman period, Centum Cellas, a unique example of its typology in Portugal.
The last three Historic Villages are also those closest to the Spanish border and we quickly find the justification for their defensive apparatus. Starting with Castelo Mendo, we find a village still with medieval features strongly protected by two lines of walls: the citadel, with an oval line, was formed after the era of D. Sancho II; and the new town, or suburb, of the time has a belt of Dionysian walls, it was protected by eight defensive towers that, almost unwillingly, collapsed almost after the 1755 earthquake. The urban core itself is an excellent testimony from ancient times, preserving the medieval sidewalks and doors (especially the Portas da Vila), plenty of 16th century and Manueline houses and its pillory, chapels, its mother church from the 14th century.
Of all the Historical Villages we have analyzed, Almeida, even for his strategic position, is the one that presents a more modern and adequate defensive system to resist artillery attacks. After the Restoration of Independence (1640) Almeida reformulated its stronghold by adopting a hexagonal plan of six bastions interposed with six revelins, which forms a harmonious 12-pointed star. Its strategic position is also reflected in the number of emblazoned houses that can be found in its old nucleus, as well as in the number of religious temples, of which we highlight the Matriz and Misericórdia churches. The high square, the King's ring, the magazine, the double doors and the several barracks are also testament to the importance of this city in the national military panorama. Its castle exploded in 1810 during the 3rd French invasion, but its ruins have been a national monument since 1928.
The last stop on this route will be Castelo Rodrigo. Located in the territory of Riba-Côa, Castelo Rodrigo was conquered from the Moors in the 11th century and received a charter by the Leonese king Afonso IX and has been part of the national territory since 1297, after the signing of the Alcanices treaty by D. Dinis, which renewed it the charter. The defensive system of Castelo Rodrigo is made through its castle, towers and walls, marked by its cross bombers. The Jewish heritage is also observable here: the Jewish home and the rabbi's house, which functioned as a synagogue, testifies to the presence of a community of Jews from which, for example, Efraim Bueno, a new Christian who was born here and made a career as doctor in Amsterdam. On the administrative level, we have the Casa da Câmara and Casa da Cadeia, as well as its Manueline pillory and cistern, which is believed to be the reuse of a Jewish temple. Finally, we recommend a visit to the monastery of Santa Maria de Aguiar, a male monastery of the Cistercian order, with a three-nave Latin cross church and transept.