Taking a break from the beaches we took a short ride to the nearby city of Mafra which is an unremarkable sort of place except for a very good cake shop and the magnificent Royal Palace which is enormous and can be seen from several miles away. The palace is huge and covers an area of almost two and a half square miles and has one thousand two hundred rooms.
It is part Palace, part Cathedral and part Convent and is one of the fourteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Portugal.
It is the biggest Royal Palace in Portugal and makes it even more famous is that the last King of Portugal, Manuel II spent his last night in Portugal at the Palace after being deposed in October 1910. He escaped the next day by Royal Yacht from Ericeira and lived the remainder of his life in exile in England, in Twickenham.
I am guessing that the lady with no bra on is the Portuguese equivalent of the French Madame Liberty…
I am afraid that I am quite unable to explain why Republican icon Madame Liberty has no clothes on. It is an interesting fact however that when the French built the Statue of Liberty for the USA they made sure that she was more discreetly attired so as not to offend New World sensibilities.
There is nothing else to tell you about Mafra or Madame Liberty. So…
… Just like Brooke Bond Tea Cards I am a collector of World Heritage Site visits, if there is one close by then I just have to go. Here are some more that I have been to in Portugal…
Built in the eighteenth century, the University is a National Monument and has priceless historical value being the main tourist attraction in Coimbra. The building has three floors and contains about two hundred and fifty thousand volumes and being someone who loves books this place is a little bit of heaven. The collection dates from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and represents the finest works from Europe at the time on the subjects of medicine, geography, history, science, law, philosophy and theology.
Tomar is one of the most historically important cities in all of Portugal with a history that stretches back to the Romans and probably even before that. Fast forward a thousand years and after the capture of the region from the Moors in the Portuguese Reconquista, the land was granted in 1159 to the Order of the Knights Templar. In 1160, the Grand Master in Portugal, Gualdim Pais, laid the first stone of the Castle and Monastery that would become the headquarters of the Order in Portugal and from here they pledged to defend Portugal from any subsequent Moorish attacks and raids
Turns out is the biggest fortified town not only in Portugal but all of Europe. Inside the fortress town we walked through the ancient whitewashed streets, cobbled streets which were painful to negotiate in tourist sandals. Along narrow passages lined by houses with blistered wooden doors, Shutters thrown back like the wings of butterflies basking in the midday sunshine. Sagging washing lines groaning under the weight of the dripping laundry. The rich aroma of lunch time cooking seeping out from open windows. Outside of the front doors pots of flowers in various stages of bloom and decay.
As the first capital of Portugal, Guimarães is known as the place where the country was born – ‘The Cradle City’. In 1095 Count Henry of Burgundy, who had married princess Teresa of León, established in Guimarães the second County of Portugal and on July 25th 1109 Afonso Henriques, son of Count Henry of Burgundy, was born here and it was where Duke Afonso Henriques proclaimed Portuguese independence from the Kingdom of León, after the Battle of São Mamede in 1128, declaring himself to be Afonso I, King of Portugal.
Évora is an interesting city and has a busy history. The Romans conquered it in 57 BC and built the first walled town. During the barbarian invasions Évora came under the rule of the Visigothic king Leovigild in 584. In 715, the city was conquered by the Moors and during this period the town slowly began to prosper and developed into an agricultural centre with a fortress and a mosque.
Évora was captured from the Moors through a surprise attack by Gerald the Fearless (what a fabulous name) in 1165 and the city came under the rule of the Portuguese king Afonso I in 1166 and then for a few hundred years or so it then flourished as one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal.
At five hundred and sixty miles long the Douro is the eighth longest river in Western Europe (the eighteenth in all of Europe) and flows first through Spain and then Portugal and meets the Atlantic Ocean at Porto. This part of the Douro Valley, and for about sixty miles towards Spain, has a microclimate allowing for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially the grapes and the hillsides are scattered with picturesque quintas or farms clinging on to almost every improbable vertical slope dropping down to the river where tourist boats were making the daily return trip to Porto.
Many hilltops in Portugal have been places of religious devotion and the Bom Jesus hill was one of these. It was an ancient site where in 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ. The present Sanctuary was begun in 1722, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Telles and under his direction the first stairway row, with chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis, were completed. He also sponsored the next segment of stairways, which has a zigzag shape and is dedicated to the Five Senses of Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste and each is represented by a different fountain.
The historical centre of Porto is a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were now approaching one of the six bridges across the River Douro, the Ponte Dom Luis I, which is an iron bridge designed by a student of Gustav Eiffel and built on two levels. From the top elevation there were unbeatable views of the river, the old town and Vila Nova de Gaia, a sister city on the other side of the river.
I will tell you about Sintra and Lisbon in later posts, the three that I haven’t got around to yet are the Coa Valley, Batalhia and Alcobaca. Watch this space.
More from Mafra…