One of the most beautiful cities in Portugal is also one of the least well-known. But in 2012, Guimarães will finally get to show itself to the world as one of the two European capitals of Culture for 2012. (The other is Maribor in Slovenia.)
Located in northern Portugal, around 50 kilometres from Porto, Guimarães is often called the ‘birth-city’ of Portugal as it was here that the country was founded. It is thought that the first king, Afonso Henriques, was born there.
Many died here, too: It was near Guimarães that the battle of São Mamede took place in 1128, a fundamental milestone in Portugal independence over the Galicians (the new state was recognized in 1143). With this in mind you won’t be surprised to see so many monuments throughout this picturesque town. The Palace of the Dukes of Bragança (the last dynasty to rule in Portugal) is an impressive fortified mansion dating from the 15th century that underwent major restoration works between 1937-59. Visiting it is a bit of a child’s dream; the building is full of objects and secret passages as well as many features of northern European architecture — including the unusual cylindrical chimneys.
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(The whole town has preserved its medieval charm — the city centre was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 2001.)
There’s also the castle that dates back to the 10th century, essential in the defence against attacks by Normans and Moors, with different improvements throughout the centuries.
Also worth visiting are the churches — particularly Nossa Senhora da Conceição and Capela de S. Miguel.
Walking in the city reveals surprising monuments including the gothic porch, Padrão do Salado, built in 1342, or the narrow Santa Maria street, one of the oldest streets in Guimarães. To get the best view, take the cable car to the Penha mountain sanctuary. Largo do Toural, Praça da Oliveira and Praça de Santiago are beautiful old squares that are getting a new lease of life with lively, busy bars, a hotspot for a young crowd.
It’s not all history here.