As a history nerd, I love learning a country’s origins and history. So, my day trip to Guimaraes (Guimarães) was very exciting because it is the antecedent city that would become known as Portugal!
Guimarães is considered by many as the “cradle of Portugal” because it was here that the country’s first king was believes to have been born. It is also here that the foundations of Portugal (as a country) were built!
Guimarães Castle on Largo Hill
The first thing I did when I arrived at Guimarães was to visit Guimarães Castle (Castelo de Guimarães) on Largo Hill! I opted to walk to the site, but buses service the hill too.
I walked through the pedestrian walkway on the side of the hill, which was quiet, not crowded and shaded. The Santa Cruz Chapel was also along the way to the castle, and the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza was overlooking the chapel.
By the time I arrived, the line wasn’t super long, and the entrance to the castle was only €2. Guimarães Castle is an example of 10th century medieval castles, but was modified by its different inhabitants throughout its history. The castle was initially built to defend against invading forces from the north and south.
As the needs of the rulers changed, so did the castle’s structure and layout. What we see today is the result of the 14th century remodel by King Denis.
Inside the keep tower, there is an exhibition about the castle’s history and its significance in Portuguese history. There was also a short exhibit detailing the history of Portugal as a country, which was really enlightening (for me, at least).
The castle was known to be the residence of Portugal’s first king, King Alfonso Henriques, who led the country to its independence. The exhibit was small but it gave visitors a glimpse of Portuguese history. Now I know why so many streets in Portugal are named “Alfonso Henriques” or “Infante Alfonso Henriques!”
Game of Thrones in Guimarães
Walking around and inside the castle, I can’t help but imagine that this could’ve been a Game of Thrones set piece. The old stone walls is very similar to Winterfell in the show…just add snow! Even the history of Portugal’s royal family seems like a storyline from the books/show!
Sisters fighting each other for power, which was inherited to their sons. Battles of conquest and of defeat. A prince proclaiming himself King. A country separating from the ruling kingdom. All set in medieval Europe. Totally Game of Thrones stuff, don’t you think? Just one more thing: cue the dragons. 😆
Palace of the Dukes of Braganza
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza (Paço dos Duques de Bragança) is just down the hill of Guimarães Castle, along with the Church of São Miguel do Castelo (Igreja de São Miguel do Castelo). The Palace looked a lot like a castle you’d see in a Dracula movie. The sharp chimneys is very iconic!
If you’re going to visit the Palace, I should advice to buy the combination ticket with the castle, since it is cheaper. Because I had a modest budget, I bypassed the Palace due to the cost of €5 (which isn’t much, in retrospect). But now, I regret not going. 🙁
The gardens around the Palace grounds were also very beautiful. You can spend an lazy afternoon exploring the Palace and walk in the gardens.
After visiting the castle hill, I walked my way back down to the historical centre of Guimarães down Santa Maria Street. The beautiful Santa Maria Street (Rua de Santa Maria) is a historic street that connects the city centre to the castle, and brings you to the historic Oliveira Square. Actually, any street you walk in the historic centre is quite picturesque!
Oliveira Square was the centre of Guimarães in the olden times. Now, it’s been converted to a plaza filled with shops, cafes and restaurants. The architecture still maintains the medieval style, and parts of the square are still from the medieval period!
Plazas and squares are plenty in Guimarães, and sometimes it seems like a new square is right around the corner. With every plaza, there is a group of colourful, picturesque buildings that’s itching to be photographed. Churches are also plenty (as with all of Europe)!
Zona de Couros
My last stop in Guimarães is the old tannery zone or Zona de Couros. To my surprise, there was no one in this area (no tourists/tour guides), and I just coincidentally found it as I was walking (yay me!).
It was said that the stench in this area was unbearable awful, and it polluted the streams below. Workers would clean, treat, and dry the hide against the concrete blocks, so their work standards were low. The area now seems deserted, and it’s really quiet.
And that’s it on my trip to Guimarães! I wish I did some more things here, but life goes on and too short for regrets. Perhaps next time I visit Portugal? 😉