We decided to go to Guimaraes for two main reasons. One, because it had a castle to see (and we love a good castle) and two, that castle was voted the number one of the seven wonders of Portugal. Surely it’s the best and most impressive thing to see in Portugal – we were excited.
On the 7th December 2006, six-month-long public elections started to select the top seven wonders of Portugal. All citizens of Portugal got to vote and they could cast their vote via the internet, telephone or by texting. The results of the vote were announced on 7 July 2007 and Guimaraes Castle won the Gold Medal.
With Guimaraes Castle being the number one wonder of Portugal our expectations were high. However, we were somewhat disappointed as it was very small in comparison to other castles we’ve seen and it was almost entirely rebuilt, so very little of it was actually original.
However, it was a nice castle with particularly nice merlons on the battlements and towers. Merlons are the pointy bits poking up on the walls.
And Deby was particularly pleased that the walk around the castle ramparts castle was very well organised, not like Obidos where it was really quite dangerous. These walkways were nice and wide, had a boardwalk and railings or ropes so everyone was pretty safe. The direction of travel was also signposted so everyone went the same way and people didn’t have to cross each other. There was a man at the top of the stairs making sure you went the right way (clockwise), even though Nigel missed the sign and tried to go the wrong way (muppet).
The castle was originally built in the 10th century, which makes it incredibly old. It was built under the orders of Mumadona Dias who ruled the county jointly with her husband from about 920 and then on her own after her husband’s death around 950 until her death in 968. She was the most powerful woman in the Northwest of Portugal. The castle was actually built to defend the local monastery (no longer in existence) from attacks by Moors and Norsemen.
Between the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th century, the castle was remodelled by King Denis, resulting in the design that was reconstructed and stands to this day. By 1653 the castle was not looking its best. By 1836 it was in complete disrepair and the councilmen of Guimaraes were looking to demolish the castle and reuse the stone to repave the roadways, because it was too expensive to repair or maintain. In 1910, the castle ruins were declared a national monument. In 1937 restorations started which included the castle being almost entirely rebuilt from the rubble. The structure was re-inaugurated on 4th June 1940.
Entry was €6 for both the Castle and the Palace and they each open at 10 am. If you just wanted to see the Castle then it was €2 each to enter. You really only needed 10 minutes to look around the castle, it was small and not altogether impressive.
We then wandered down the grassy hill to go and see the palace and this is the first view we had of it. This was the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza. The palace appeared at least the same size as the castle, but again it was entirely rebuilt so it was in an as-new condition.
It was very impressive almost fortress looking from the outside with huge rooms inside. You enter via a large two storey courtyard with a portico, that is set up for events so it wasn’t possible to take any nice photos.
The residence was ordered to be built in the first quarter of the 15th century (likely 1420 to 1422). As the Braganza empire became bigger and more important they first moved to Vila Vicosa and then to Lisbon. The 16th Century marked the beginning of the period of ruin for the Guimaraes Palace, which was made much worse during the 19th century when the local population used the palace as a personal quarry, basically stealing anything they could to build their own homes etc.
The Palace was reduced to just one level before in 1910 it was classified as a National Monument. The rebuild started in the 1930s when Portugal became a Republic and was finished by the 24th June 1959, when the new Palace of the Dukes of Braganza was inaugurated and finally open to the public. It was absolutely nothing like the original pretty small palace that could be seen in various paintings that had been made of it. Basically, it was a modern mock-up for the President of the Republic to stay. It was designed to imply a grandeur that was not originally there.
However, some absolutely beautiful period furnishings, rugs and paintings had been purchased for the Palace’s restoration.
Included were some impressive tapestries from Peter Paul Rubens, however, all of these, like everything else were roped off so we couldn’t touch them with our pauper’s hands.
The great hall and banquet hall had the most gorgeous wooden ceilings just like the hull of a boat.
We got to visit a room with a few bits of armour etc.
And then there were a couple of bedchambers but we didn’t get to see any kitchens or bathrooms.
There really was not much information about the whole place. There was no audio tour available although there were numbers about the place as if they used to have them.
It was a pleasant enough tour but the highlight was the chapel. It had vibrant stained glass windows from 1956. Yes, we said the place was newly built!.
But for Deby, the gothic style woodwork, the balconies next to the altar were the nicest part.
Overall it was a pleasant enough visit but we just can’t see why this 1940’s tiny castle is the greatest wonder of portugal.
We parked our motorhome in an excellent spot, right near where the cable car that was about a 20-minute walk to the Castle and Palace. We parked in a big gravel carpark where motorhomes of any size could fit. It was easy to get to and flat. Just over the road was the fresh water and dumping area which in fact had two spots to chose from. We slept very well there as it was super quiet at night. The sat nav coordinates for the centre of the car park are 44.440657, -8.285778.