The birth(place) of a nation

For such a small country, Portugal has a pretty long résumé and history. As such there may be some controversy about where the country was actually started. Most nevertheless agree that Guimarães is the birthplace of Portugal.

You see… Portugal was occupied multiple times by different people, including: Celts, Romans, Suevi, Visigoths, and Muslim Moors. With this, the borders of what constituted Portugal changed many times over the last two millennia.

Guimarães is referred to as the “cradle of Portugal”: because it is associated with several key political and military events leading to the establishment of Portugal as a Kingdom in the 12th century. You can see the pride in this association inscribed in official buildings and monuments: “Portugal was born here”.

One of the most important events took place in June of 1128. After the Battle of São Mamede in Guimarães, Afonso Henriques proclaimed himself first Prince of Portugal and then in 1139 first King of Portugal. Latter that century Portugal’s independency would be recognized by the Holy See and the Pope would declare Afonso I King of Portugal. Some claim that the connection to Guimarães is deeper because Afonso I was born there, but others claim he was born in Viseu or even Coimbra. Two other important cities in the north of Portugal very much worth visiting. Regardless, after the Battle of São Mamede Afonso I ruled the country from Guimarães and that’s used by many as the reason to call it the birthplace of the nation.

Despite its old history, the love of its people have conserved Guimarães, its medieval buildings, monuments and traditions. So much so that in 2001 it was declared UNESCO World Heritage. UNESCO justified this with: Guimarães is of considerable universal significance by virtue of the fact that specialized building techniques developed there in the Middle Ages; its early history is closely associated with the establishment of Portuguese national identity and the Portuguese language; it’s exceptionally well preserved and illustrates the evolution of building types from the medieval settlement to present-day.

With an extremely well preserved medieval historic center, and proximity to other important touristic attractions in Portugal like Porto and Braga, Guimarães is a must see destination. If you need more to see than the built environment, then you’ll like to know in 2012 Guimarães was the European Capital of Culture demonstrating the value of its museums, arts and event venues.

Its festivities are also an important attraction. In August you can experience the millennium-old festivities in honor of St. Gualter with amazing parades displaying beautiful linen and flowers from the region. In November and December you can see the Nicolinas. A celebration of St. Nicholas so rich that they are also being considered for classification as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. There are yet some more festivities like the Santa Luzia festivities with an old tradition where boys and girls exchange rye and sugar cakes with names and forms full of sexual meaning in sort of a pick-up ritual.

Finally, as anywhere else in Portugal, food is also a big attraction… especially if you have a sweet tooth. Guimarães has had almost from its inception a feminine monastery. This has had a significant impact in the regional cuisine specially confection. It’s said that nuns used egg whites for starching of clothes and used the egg yolks left for sweets. Two of the most charismatic Portuguese sweets are said to come from this region: "Tortas de Guimarães" (Guimarães' pies) and "Toucinho do céu" (a pudding, literally translated as “bacon from heaven”).

Whether you visit Guimarães for its festivities, food or cultural events, you’re assured to do it in one of the oldest and better preserved medieval cities in Europe.

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