I was immensely taken with the heart logo which pops up everywhere in Guimaraes this year. Designed by Joao Campos, it was inspired by the crenels of Guimaraes Castle and the helmet of King Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.
I couldn’t be so close to Guimaraes without paying a visit in this, its special year as the European City of Culture. “You are part of it” is a theme running throughout the year, and the logo is an important symbol of this. You might enjoy the promotional video http://www.guimaraes2012.pt/index.php?cat=49&item=912&kword_cat= (choose 2012) I caught the train from Porto’s fabulous Sao Bento railway station to arrive on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon.
I didn’t know quite what to expect of Guimaraes, except that it would have a historic significance for the nation. Everyone I had spoken to said it was very charming and captured “traditional Portugal”. Of course, you know by now what traditional Portugal means to me, so, at the first hint of an azulejo, I was in through the doorway of the church of Sao Francisco.
Guimaraes has its origins in the distant 10th century. The widow Countess Mumadona Dias ordered the construction of a monastery in her estates at Vimaranes (Guimaraes today). Constant attacks from the Moors and Normans necessitated a fort to defend the monks. The Castle was built on a nearby hill, and a settlement grew up between the two, enclosed by walls.
In the 12th century, the County of Portucalem came into existence and the Castle became the residence of Count D. Henrique. King Afonso Henriques was probably born here, and christened in the tiny chapel. In 1128 the nearby Battle of Sao Mamede was instrumental in the founding of the Portuguese nation.
Walking back down from the vantage point of Guimaraes Castle, you cannot but be drawn to the Palace of the Dukes of Braganca. I have visited the marble enhanced Braganca Palace at Vila Vicosa, and was intrigued by the difference. Built in the 15th century, it is a unique example on the Iberian peninsula of a fortified house in the manorial style.
The city’s first street, Rua de Santa Maria, unravels gently into the cluster of the old town, but not before you pass through Largo Martins Sarmento. The fountain, with chapel beyond, makes a pretty picture.
The narrow streets wrap around two large squares, Praca de Santiago, and Largo da Oliveira. The photo everybody’s keen to take features the old Council Chambers and Gothic Salado Monument.
At the end of the 19th century, Guimaraes achieved city status, and sadly the city walls were demolished. Let me end in Largo de Toural, the focal point of modern Guimaraes, and outside those city walls. The legend “Aqui nasceu Portugal” – here Portugal was born- sits proudly on a remnant of wall.
The old centre has UNESCO World Heritage status and this year every effort has been made to turn Guimaraes into an inviting tourist destination. If you like what you see, there’s still time to visit. The events are posted on www.guimaraes2012.pt
Me, I have a “happy heart” whenever I’m in Portugal. Many thanks to Julie Dawn Fox who gave us the idea of “My Personal A-Z Challenge” Follow the links to discover more, and maybe join in yourself.