The birthplace of a national symbol

Many centuries ago in the small town of Barcelos, Portugal, valuable silver was stolen from a rich landowner. There were no suspects so the rich man accused a Galician pilgrim who was passing through town on his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (known as “Caminho de Santiago”). The pilgrim was brought in front of a judge who quickly sentenced him to death by hanging. Before the execution, the man asked to be brought one last time in front of the judge. When they got him to the judge’s house, he was having a banquet with some friends, and the pilgrim pledged his innocence one last time saying something like “it is as certain that I’m innocent as it is certain that the roast rooster you’re eating will crow three times before they hang me”. Still not moved, the judged did not eat the rooster, but also did not change the sentence and ordered the man be executed immediately. Few moments later, the rooster got up on the table and crowed three times. Shocked, the judged ordered the execution be cancelled immediately but when they got to the gallows the man had already been dropped. Fortunately for him though, the noose was loose and he survived the hanging. The judge ordered him be released and let go. Strong believer in mystical events, the man returned to Barcelos a few years later and built a monument: the Crucifix of the Lord of the Rooster ("Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo") in praise to the Virgin Mary and to Saint James. This was the start of a local legend and of a Portuguese icon: the Rooster of Barcelos (“Galo de Barcelos”). This is a brightly painted ceramic rooster, sold throughout Portugal as symbol of good luck.

Originally a Roman settlement, Barcelos was the seat of the First Duke of Bragança in the 15th century. Currently it is home to one of the largest weekly markets in Portugal and probably Europe. This is set in a large square with a Renaissance fountain, surrounded by old historical buildings, and two beautiful 18th century churches. “Nossa Senhora do Terço” Church has a plain exterior but is beautifully decorated on the inside with magnificent tile panels and gilded wood. The Church of “Bom Jesus da Cruz” has a tiled cupola and is also richly decorated with gilt, tiles and elaborate chandeliers.

The town’s old quarters also make for an impressive history lesson. During a short stroll you can visit historical buildings and a church with Romanesque and Gothic influences dating back to the 13th century. Inside you can see multicolored tiles and small Baroque chapels. Also nearby is the Duke’s old palace, now an open-air museum, where you can see stones and sculptures dating from the Roman period to the Middle Ages. During a visit you see tombstones engraved with symbols showing the diversity of the people who inhabited this region over centuries. You can see both Celtic and Catholic crosses, Jewish Stars of David, five-point Islamic pentagrams, and obviously the Rooster of Barcelos.

Barcelos is also a great place to see and buy handcrafted goods at very reasonable prices. The range of options is wide: pottery, copperware, wooden toys, hand-made rugs, cotton tableware, and of course the Rooster of Barcelos.

Part of the “Caminho de Compostela”, Barcelos is also central to several other must-visit cities in Northern Portugal including Braga, Viana do Castelo, and Porto.

Waste no time! Whether you want to learn more about the religious pilgrimages to “Caminho de Compostela”, stroll around historical buildings, churches and medieval bridges, or buy some pretty handcrafted souvenirs, Barcelos should be on your map.

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