Take my son, I’ll keep the castle

Gil Paes was the governor (“alcaide-mor”) of Torres Novas in the 14th century and is one of the most iconic historical figures in Portugal. He’s an example of extreme loyalty to his kingdom.

In 1372 the King of Castile invaded the Kingdom of Portugal. His army conquered many villages as it advanced into Portuguese territory. This invasion apparently happened with little opposition from the Portuguese army and many villages were surrendering very easily to avoid many casualties. When the Castilian army got to Torres Novas in 1373, it got a different experience.

Highly loyal to King Ferdinand, Gil Paes resisted the invasion and did not give away control of the castle. The Castilian King surrounded the castle and amidst some of the battles ended up capturing Gil Paes’ 18 years old son. He then warned Gil Paes that he’d kill his son if he didn’t surrender the castle and neighboring region. What followed was an example of extreme loyalty to the kingdom. Gil Paes did what most men wouldn't. He told the Castilian King that the castle wasn’t his to surrender, and that he could not therefore give the Castilian King access to the castle. In Gil Paes’ words: “you have my son in your hands, you can do whatever you want with his life”. The Castilian King hung the boy. People say that out of rage and pain, Gil Paes told the Castilian men he’d rather have them roast and eat the body of his dead son, than be seen as a traitor to his King. After this unthinkable act of resistance, the Castilian King decided to retreat and Torres Novas remained under the ruling of the Portuguese King. Gil Paes’ loyalty was later compensated by the King who gave Gil Paes the custody of his daughter until she got married.

With such a rich history, the Torres Novas Castle is central to the city’s identity. Located in the center of the city, it is open for visits every day. Though it is not one of the biggest, nor richest, castles in the country, this castle was recently restored and is worth a visit for the history it embeds. Other attractions in Torres Novas include several richly decorated churches (some as old as the 8th century), and Cardílio Village. Cardílio Village are the remains of a roman village dating back to the 2nd century. During your visit you can see a wide assortment of objects including: farming tools, ceramics, glass and bronze objects, rings, and some statues.

From Torres Novas you can get to several other attractions nearby. If you love nature, you must head to “Paul do Boquilobo”. This is a Natural Reserve and the largest protected aquatic ecosystem in Portugal. In fact, this reserve plays such an important role keeping the balance of the overall environment, that it has also been protected internationally as a “Biosphere Reserve” by the UNESCO since 1980. Though it has a rich fauna, including small tortoises and reptiles, this reserve is recognized by its wide assortment of bird species which you see from secluded cabins masterfully camouflaged in the natural environment.

Another unique attraction in the vicinity of Torres Novas, is a “Jurassic Park” where you can see vestiges of dinosaurs over 175 million years old. Discovered in the 90’s under the rocky bed of a stone quarry, these footprints of sauropods are among just a few in the world. You can stroll around the park and see hundreds of footprints in several different tracks.

Torres Novas is also known for its high quality dried fruits and nuts. Some classify it as the “capital of the dried fruit”, and every year in October there’s a large fair where farmers exhibit and sell dried fruits and nuts, most typically dried figs, almonds and walnuts.

If you’re trying to decide when to visit, another important event takes place in June. The city comes together every year to organize a Medieval Fair and reenact the events around Gil Paes’ historical resistance. The visitors can experience how it people dressed, talked, worked, lived in Medieval times, and watch on a live set the reenactments performed by local actors in costumes of the that time. This Medieval Fair is quickly getting recognized as one of the best in Portugal and Europe for the quality of the sets, costumes and reenactments.

Finally, as elsewhere in Portugal, you’ll also find great food in this region. Aside from the dried fruits, you have to try the local artisanal bread, regional olive oil, and if you visit Paul do Boquilobo then you must try freshwater eel (“enguias”). Whether stewed or deep-fried, these are a local delicacy which will have you asking for more.

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