Sunday, November 13, 2016



     The well-preserved medieval city of Guimarães (pop. 52,000) is located about 50 km. northwest of Porto. It was designated in 2001 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition for being an exceptionally well-preserved and authentic example of the evolution of a medieval settlement into a modern town in Europe. It is also considered the birthplace of Portugal because it is believed that Portugal's first King, Afonso Henriques, was born here. Alfonso went on to lead the Battle of São Mamede (1128AD) which is considered a critical event for the foundation of the Kingdom of Portugal.

    It was highly recommended as a side trip by the tourist office and the inexpensive train fare of 6.60 or 3.30 for seniors made it even more appealing. We decided to take the train and make a day of it. Note that anyone 65 and older receives a 50% discount on all Portuguese trains.

     When we arrived at the train station on this September day, it was raining. Fortunately we had umbrellas, but it was still not a pleasant walk to the center especially since we weren't exactly sure of the route and didn't have a map.


    Our luck changed when the rain stopped, and we found a great restaurant for lunch called Buxa near the ancient Oliveira Square at Largode Oliveira 23. Our table overlooked the square, and I enjoyed the seafood luncheon special (12.50) that included sole, mixed salad, rice dish, breads, olives, eclair for dessert, and a glass of house white wine.

After the scrumptious meal, we were off to explore this fascinating city with its medieval streets, alleys, and squares. Directly across the square was one of the more historically important monuments of the city, the Church of our Lady of Oliveira. It was popularized during the Middle Ages by the Santiago de Compostela's pilgrims who made it their religious center. In those days there was a saying, “Whoever goes to Santiago and does not visit Senhora da Oliveira, will not have done the true pilgrimage.”

The presence of the Portuguese Way route is evidenced by shell symbols that are engraved in the sidewalks throughout the old city. We had a good time walking around looking for the shells and imagining what it was like for those pilgrims that walked the same route over 1000 years ago. I also got a local red stamp for my credential at the tourist office.
     The tenth century Castle of Guimarães is perched on a hill overlooking the town. I enjoyed a pleasant walk up to the castle while Ron stopped at a cafe to do some work. It followed a tree-lined boulevard with medieval buildings along the way. After making a circular walk around the walled castle with its eight majestic towers and park-like grounds, I entered the medieval structure for a leisurely visit. I climbed the stairs, walked along the walls, peered out at the nearby countryside, and then perused a small museum in the tower that had some interesting displays.
Since the early Middle Ages, the “Way of St James” has been the most popular pilgrimage for western European Catholics. In medieval times the pilgrims were on a journey to a holy place as a spiritual quest for help or a penance for sins. It has since grown from mainly a religious practice to something more universal as described by a more recent English pilgrim in 1998:

    “However skeptical one may be about the basis of the pilgrimage and the legends surrounding it, one cannot help being affected by it. Maybe it's the simplicity of the life and the closeness to nature that makes one conscious of deeper realities and I hope, as a result, I have learned to be a better person, or at least I will try to be.”
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