UNESCO World Heritage Challenge: Historic Centre of Guimarães

This week I had the chance to visit another UNESCO site in Portugal, the historic town of Guimarães.  This town is deemed an important site for three key reasons:

  • A specialized building technique was  developed there in the Middle Ages which was transmitted to Portuguese colonies in Africa and the New World
  • Guimarães illustrates the evolution of particular building types from the medieval settlement to the present-day city
  • The early history of Guimarães is closely associated with the establishment of Portuguese national identity and the Portuguese language in the 12th century.

'Portugal was born here'

This picture for me sums up Guimarães at the minute, a city filled with multiple histories, architecture old and new, with fortified walls once built to protect the city, and a wave of development happening in the foreground. A prime driver of the developments in Guimarães is its status as the the European Capital of Culture for 2012. You can find out more about the developments happening for the Capital of Culture year on the official Guimarães 2012 website here (available in English and Portuguese).

Guimaraes played an important role in many of the events that led to the country´s independence and witnessed the birth of Afonso Henriques I. When he proclaimed himself Portugal´s first king in 1139, he chose Guimaraes as his capital, and the distinctive outline of its proud castle appears on the Portuguese coat of arms. First built to deter attacks by Moors and Normans in the 10th century, the city´s famous castle dominates the skyline with eight square towers and a 27m high dungeon.

Guimarães Castle

The old streets of Guimarães centre are a fascinating part of the city, with many of the streets given names of the craftmenships that used to reside there. Each craft ad its own patron saint, and chapel. Its roads, tightly knit inside the city walls, naturally narrow and winding, welcomed the homes of the humble craftsmen, which stood next to the finer building of rich merchants, clergymen or even nobles.

There are many places to explore in this city but a few other key points of interest include:

The Oliveira Square and Battle of Salado Monument: This is considered Guimarães birthplace. The church of Our lady of Oliveira is located here. On the north side stands the building of ht etown hall, infront of the Church of Padrao do Salado. King Alfonso IV order the gothic porch to be built in this square to comemorrate the Salado Battle that took place in 1340, where the Portuguese army together with the Castille army of Alfonso XI, defeated the Moorish King of Granada and the Benimerines of Morocco.  The limestone cross in the centre, made in 1342, was a gift from Pero Esteves, a businessman born in Guimarães that lived in Lisbon.

Church of Our Lady of Oliveira and Salado Monument

The Palace of the Dukes of Bragança which is a large complex built from stone down the hill from the castle established around 1420.  The building was conceived as a symbol of the pride of the Bragança family.

The palace

These are but a few of the highlight to city and its history.

You can find out more information about this UNESCO site on the official website here.

You can view more images from this trip to Guimarães here.

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