Destination Spain presents Braga and Guimaraes

Work on the Roman "Bracara Augusta", a regional juridical capital, began during the reign of emperor Augustus in 27 bc. It was part of the Empire ́s network criss- crossing the Iberian Peninsula to link it with Rome. Demonstrating the importance of the settlement, Emperor Caracala raised it to the status of capital of Galician province in 216. In the same century, the Diocese de Braga was established under the rule of Bishop Paterno. With the decline of the Roman Empire, Braga was first taken over by the Sueves, who made it their political and intellectual centre, before the Visigoths and Muslims moved in. It was mid-11th century before the city was reconquered by Christians and the archdiocese restored to Bishop Pedro. Throughout Muslim rule, the bishops had moved their place of residence to Lugo (Spain). In 1112, the religious history of Braga gained predominance. Pope Innocence III transferred jurisdiction over Oporto, Coimbra and Viseu, along with five other dioceses in what is now Spain, to Braga. Industrialisation and the founding of a university did much to contribute to the current development of the city that has held onto both secular and religious traditions. This is played out every year during events in Holy Week or the Festival of St. John the Baptist in June. These are wonderful opportunities to visit Braga, touring its Historic Centre or reliving the Pilgrimages to Santiago that would pass through here. Outside the city, there is the Way of the Marian Sanctuaries or the particular charm of the Cordophone Museum.

Build in 1882, is the first funicular built in the Iberian Peninsula. The Lift of Bom Jesus (Elevador Bom Jesus) is a funicular standing over a slope and is composed of two booths that move over railways connected by a cable. Working as counterbalance of one another, both go up and downhill alternately and simultaneously along two parallel tracks over a course of 274 meters. Each booth has the capacity to 39 people, including the driver.Revealing itself the second funicular designed by Nikolaus Riggenbach, the Lift of Bom Jesus do Monte (Elevador Bom Jesus do Monte) is currently the only one working, what is by itself revealing of its importance in a world scale of the water counterbalanced funiculars, which the most recent is from 1992. Also, it represents a valuable testimony of the activity initiated by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, portuguese engineer of French ancestry, specialized in mechanical engineering, and that, after the conclusion of this Lift, was involve in the construction of Lisbon’s lifts of Lavra, Glória and Santa Justa.

The Cathedral of Braga is the oldest religious temple of Portugal. It’s building began during the year 1070, and its construction took a century. This temple has a beautiful set of architectural styles, among which one can enjoy the Romanesque in the structure; the Manueline in its covering, or the Baroque, in their magnificent ornaments. The Romanesque is the most interesting, and you can appreciate it in the format of the cathedral, as well as in the southern entrance and in the west door where there is a carving with depictions of a medieval legend known as Zorro Renart.

Guimaraes is a charming and historic city that makes for a fascinating day trip from Porto. Guimaraes is regarded as the birthplace of Portugal and this extensive history is reflected in the variety of national monuments and historic buildings found within the city. On 13 December 2001, UNESCO inscribed the historical centre of Guimarães on the list of World Heritage. A distinction that is fully merited by this city, one that is full of historical memories and has so carefully preserved its heritage and public spaces for the pleasure and delight of its visitors. For Portuguese people, Guimaraes has a very special symbolic value, for it was in a field close to the walls of its castle that D. Afonso Henriques fought the Battle of Sao Mamede, on 24 June 1128. By emerging victorious from the struggle, Afonso Henriques began the process that would lead to the foundation of the kingdom of Portugal, of which he was to become the first king.

The Castle of Guimaraes presence evokes the exciting mixture of legend, poetry and heroism that surrounds the beginning of Portuguese history. On this Monte Largo (Broad Hill) the nucleus of the future nation of Portugal was first developed. In circa 968, Mumadona, the countess of Galicia, ordered a castle to be built on this site, where the population could seek refuge from the constant attacks unleashed upon them by the hordes of Vikings, who arrived by sea from the north of Europe, and the Muslims, who made raids from the territories that they occupied to the south. This castle represented the beginning of the important defensive structure that we can now see today, dominated by the square keep that stands between the four towers guarding each of the four corners of the walls. Abandoned to the ravages of time and the neglect of men, it was carefully restored to its original grandeur and beauty in the first half of the 20th century.

The construction of the Palace of the Dukes of Bragança, its design inspired by that of the typical French manor houses, was begun in the early 15th century. Because the residence of the Dukes of Bragança was later moved to the Palace of Vila Viçosa, in the Alentejo, the building gradually fell into disrepair over the centuries until it was transformed into a military barracks in 1807. In 1959 the palace was brought back to life in all its Norman-inspired Gothic glory. On the ground floor in the north wing is a small museum of contemporary art. The museum occupies the huge rooms of the first floor, being used for exhibiting a group of works of art originating from various museums or commissioned as replicas, most notably a number of pieces of 17th-century furniture, collections of ancient weapons and a remarkable group of four enormous tapestries depicting in great detail scenes from the arrival of the Portuguese in Arzila, the siege of this same city in North Africa and the capture of Tangiers. The originals were found in Pastrana, close to Madrid, and later transferred to the El Escorial palace. The Spanish government never gave permission for the original tapestries to be returned to Portugal, only allowing reproductions to be made, and these are now on display at the Ducal Palace.