Posts Tagged With: monuments

Strange things in strange places (part 4)

altar3Roadtrips can be surprising.

As we were driving along a road in the Trás-os-Montes region, in the north of Portugal, I thought I saw a sign mentioning an “altar of sacrifices”.

Wait. What? Go back.

Yep, it does say “altar of sacrifices”.


I couldn’t find much on this site, I have to say. I’m not an archaeologist but I can’t see anything resembling an altar of any kind. Still, it is strange (to say the least) and probably stranger still is the casual sign by the side of the road.


Known as “altar of sacrifices” or “Pias dos Mouros” these are two parallel rectangular structures, which were dug on granite. The smaller one is about 2 meters long by 0,55 meters wide, while the bigger one is roughly 2,47 meters long by 0,60 meters wide.


On the sides you can see several carved stone steps. As far as I know no real archaeological exacavation has ever been carried out on this site, but it is believed to have been built previously to the arrival of the Romans to what is, today, Portuguese territory.

Its true purpose and origin? Still a mystery… But it only goes to show that sometimes fascinating things can be where we least expect them!

Enjoy!  🙂

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Once in a lifetime

When I was a kid several of Sintra’s monuments, which today are crowded with tourists at any time of the year, were kind of my weekend playground.
I remember Capuchos when it was a semi-abandoned place, which I later refused to visit having known it had been vandalized. I also remember the castle and the old man selling entrance tickets, postcards and pots of honey on a stall with cats sunbathing on its roof. But my favourite of these places was, probably, Pena.
As a kid I was obviously impressed by the outside architectural “layers” and details, in a time when it was all, still, in different shades of dusty grey (the palace was later painted with its original colours). What really had a magic of its own, however, was the park. It was, to me, a piece of forest with mystery around every corner: The stone tables, the well, the metal bridge, the sculpted warrior and the gigantic trees seemed to me to be “extra magical” at a time when there really wasn’t a lot of information around regarding the park. I was always secretly hoping to come across a fairy somewhere – and I could almost swear I caught a glimpse of a pointy red hat once!
When I read that Parques de Sintra would open the Pena park and palace at night I had a “now or never” kind of feeling. Besides, they were doing it for charity purposes, so what could be better?
Although it had only been two days after a full moon (which means plenty of moonlight) Sintra did its best to keep up with its reputation and the whole area was surrounded by fog. While it was certainly amazing I really don’t have any good photos of the park that night because of the fog and because most places were, well, almost pitch black – except for the fireflies!
The lakes looked amazing at night with the fog and the Fonte dos Passarinhos, lit by our lanterns, had its own mystique. My good friend, the ginormous Western red cedar, was part of the tour as well, as did the century old ferns.
One of the ferns in this part of the garden was, if I’m not mistaken, planted in 1850, which makes it… 165 years old! Did you know that the ferns in the Feteira da Rainha and the surrounding trees make up an ecosystem of their own? The trees protect the ferns from the harsh Summer sun, but allow for enough sunlight in the Winter, after their leaves fall. This was all part of the king‘s project when he planned the park. This plan was so detailed, in fact, that it even took into account the winds coming from the sea.
When reaching the highest point, near Cruz Alta, the wind transformed the heavy fog into rain, so when our group got to the end of the tour, and we “emerged” into the middle of the crowd near the palace, we all looked like we had actually ran a marathon! 😀
I didn’t get to visit the inside of the palace this time (too crowded!) but I did get to wander around the terraces a bit. Once again, the fog worked its magic!
The best part of this night? They actually managed to collect a total of about 5 tons of food! Everyone working there, from the five companies and institutions involved, was a volunteer. I can tell you our guide was one enthusiastic volunteer!
P.S.: I do hope this will not be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and that they repeat it sometime in a not very distant future!

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Simple pleasures


I already mentioned Ponte da Barca on the blog before, but I couldn’t skip the opportunity of bringing it up again. I mean, look at those trees.


Sometimes you really don’t need an incredible work of art or a fancy resort to enjoy being somewhere. Sometimes the colors of the sky and the trees are just right and Nature creates a perfect paiting.


Or maybe it’s just the way a boat fits a reflection – almost perfectly.


Or noticing an unexpected rower.


Trivia tidbit of the day: Remember when I told you about Santo António? His mother was born in Ponte da Barca, no less!

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Strange things in strange places (part 3)

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The definition of strange is, obviously, a relative one. I keep being surprised by things which, to me, are puzzling – sanctuaries are one of them – and I’m fully aware that what I think of as “strange” clearly wasn’t so to whoever built them.

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Can you see two little white peaks in the upper third of the photo? That’s where the sanctuary is!

In previous posts dedicated to this category I’ve mentioned a small sanctuary on top of a small hill in Gerês and a church on the beach. Today I bring you a sanctuary in a village right in the mountainous region of Peneda, part of the Peneda-Gerês National Park. This is the kind of thing that might get us thinking “why would anyone want to build a sanctuary in such a remote area?”. It’s worth remembering that this area, although scarcely populated today, wasn’t always so.

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Anyway, enough chitchat. 🙂

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The construction of the sanctuary of Senhora da Peneda started in the late 18th century and ended roughly 100 years later. There’s a main structure, which resembles the Bom Jesus sanctuary in Braga and then there are small chapels depicting scenes of the life of Christ – one of them, it seems, was paid for by the negus of Ethiopia! There’s also a small hotel, in what used to be lodgings for the pilgrims visiting the sanctuary.

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Like so many similar sanctuaries this one has a legend. In August 1220, so the story goes, Our Lady of Peneda appeared before a young shepherd girl and told her to ask the people of a nearby village to construct a chapel in her honor. When the girl told her parents about this they gave her no credit, thinking she was only a child and had probably made it up. The next day Our Lady of Peneda appeared again in the same place and told the girl that, since nobody believed her, she should go to another village where there was a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. She should tell the inhabitants of the place to bring the woman to her presence. The girl did as she was told and, lo and behold, as soon as the woman came near the image of Our Lady of Peneda she was free from her illness!

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As a side note I’d like to add that this is a place where you might just come across a few cows grazing – yes, in a sanctuary!

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A different perspective


The way I see it when you’re visiting a monument it’s interesting, and educational, even, to notice all the “big and important” things that come in guides and books. But, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail”.

More often than not, while walking around in old monuments, if you care to pay attention, you’ll find intriguing features, puzzling peculiarities – or just a window in the right angle and a tree in the right spot.


Today I’m bringing you some of those details from the Convent of Christ in Tomar, which I mentioned several times before on the blog. Actually, I believe this is one of the most enigmatic places in the country. Not all things are mysterious, though – some are just curious!

The most famous window in the Convent can also be seen from another window.


Then, there’s a big belt carved in stone (the esoteric crowd will have something to say about this one).


The dorm floor – am I the only one who sees this as a little bit creepy?


Entwined cords on a corner? Heck, why not?


Either this is a funny angel or his head got stuck in that ladder!


And why not a silly hat?


Enjoy! 🙂

Oh, before I forget, there’s a surprise on the way! 😉

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On top of the hill


Generally speaking, if you’re not the religious type, there are two reasons why you should visit some of the churches and sanctuaries and Portugal: their history/architecture and the view.

Today I’m bringing you the Santuário de Santa Luzia (Sanctuary of Santa Luzia), in Viana do Castelo, which offers an amazing view over the river Lima, the sea, the city of Viana do Castelo and the surrounding area. You can actually go to the top of the sanctuary and enjoy the breathtaking views.


Before the modern sanctuary was built (the construction lasted from 1904 to 1959) there used to be a small medieval chapel in its place but the modern sanctuary has very few, if any, medieval elements to it, being a mix of neo-romanticism, byzantine and neo-gothic in a temple shaped like a Greek cross!

And then… Then, there’s the view.



Enjoy! 🙂

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Some may call it a love story


I prefer to call it a horror story.

Today I bring you a legend with much historical truth to it – a story of love… beyond the grave!

It was the year of 1340 in the kingdom of Portugal. The young prince, Pedro, heir to the throne, was about to be married to Constança of Castille. There was no love between them, for love was never a matter of importance in marriages between noble families.

Along with Constança came her ladies-in-waiting, all of them fair young ladies. Much fairer, it seems, than the bride. But among them one stood out for her beauty. To the prince’s eyes Inês de Castro was the fairest of them all.

The young lady’s parents were members of both the Portuguese and Galician nobilities, but she was not a princess – she could never be a queen!P&I5

The love between Pedro and Inês grew stronger everyday and it was rapidly becoming obvious to everyone in the court that the prince was neglecting his wife, Constança.

The prince’s father, king Afonso IV of Portugal, was afraid of what this love might mean to the delicate diplomatic relations between Portugal and the kingdom of Castille. Not only was Pedro madly in love with Inês, but her brothers were close friends to the prince as well. Aware that kings often had mistresses, Afonso thought his son would eventually grow tired of Inês.

The years passed and in 1345 Constança dies after giving birth to a son. Despite his father’s pleas Pedro refuses to marry any woman other than Inês. Dark shadows were cast over the court and the kingdom was in turmoil.

The prince’s legitimate son was a fragile infant, whereas the children he had with Inês were healthy and happy. Rumours were everywhere in the court: Inês was a witch and her family was planning to murder Constança’s baby so that her own son could ascend to the throne. The king decides to banish Inês from the court, but Pedro remains in love with her, despite the distance.


In 1355, after numerous attempts to keep them apart, Afonso IV decides to get rid of Inês de Castro once and for all. He has two of his counselours speak to Pedro and tell him that the king, his father, would allow his marriage to Inês. But the prince realised this was a trap and replied he would never marry Inês de Castro.

Three men, hired by the king to kill Inês, find her in Coimbra and kill her in front of her youngest child. Pedro, it is said, became half mad at the news of her execution – but he would have his revenge, even if it meant waiting several years.

The prince became the new king of Portugal in 1357 and later, in 1360, he publicly stated that he had secretly married Inês in 1354, although he couldn’t remember the exact day. By doing this their children would no longer be illegitimate and Inês would be queen…


In 1361 two of her killers were found and brought to the king’s presence. The king claimed that they had taken his heart from him and so he would do the same to them. They were both publicly executed and, legend has it, their hearts were ripped from their ribcages… by the king himself.

But the king’s revenge was not over yet. He wanted vengeance from everyone who surrounded him, everyone who had stood against his love for Inês.

Legend has it that Pedro ordered the exhumation of her corpse and had it dressed in the best possible clothes, as would be fit for a queen. The corpse, which had been in its grave for years, was placed on the throne and every member of the court was forced to bow down and kiss the hand of Inês de Castro, swearing allegiance to the new queen – a corpse queen.

Pedro and Inês are still together and still apart to this very day. You can visit their stone tombs in the Monastery of Alcobaça where they are opposite each other. On Judgement day, when the angels sound their trumpets, Pedro and Inês can look at each other’s eyes again as they rise from their stone cold tombs.P&I6


Today’s post, although it does fit the day and the purpose of the blog, was written by special request – this one’s for you, Sofia! 😉 Happy Halloween!

Enjoy! 🙂

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Ye olde medieval castle (Part 2)


Again, I had no intention of writing a sequel but… we do have a lot of medieval castles!

The castle of Santa Maria da Feira (a city which is about 30 minutes to the south of Porto) is probably one of the most beautiful castles in Portugal. In recent years it became also one of the most well known castles in the country because of the medieval fair it hosts every year (note: If you happen to be in the area at the time of the fair, usually between late July and early August, it’s well worth spending at least a day there).

For all we know today the castle was built where a pagan temple used to be. This temple, dedicated to a local divinity called Bandevelugo Toiraeco (try saying that 3 times, quick!), would later become a temple dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The oldest written reference to the castle dates back to the 11th century and, actually, this castle reflects a variety of defensive methods used between the 11th and the 16th centuries.

As with most castles in Portugal, this one is located in the city centre and it also happens to be near a park. Even without the medieval fair I’d highly recommend going there!


Enjoy! 🙂

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Strange things in strange places (part 2)


I really wasn’t thinking of writing a sequel to the previous “Strange things in strange places” post, but such is life – showing me unexpected things in unexpected places. Like a chapel on a beach.

I had actually seen photos of this place before but had never been there. Nothing the internet could not help me with!

Not far from Porto, in a place called Praia de Miramar, you can find a chapel on a beach. This chapel (Capela do Senhor da Pedra) was built in 1686 and, legend has it, there used to be a Pagan altar there before.

Do you know of any similar buildings in other places? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Enjoy! 🙂


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Portuguese trivia (IX)

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Remember our buddy Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king?

Well, legend has it that this is the church where he was baptised as a baby. It may not look grand, but hey, it was the Middle Ages and he was the son of a count (well, actually, maybe he wasn’t).

This church, near the castle of Guimarães, is dedicated to Saint Michael and, in fact, it was probably built after the birth of Afonso Henriques (there may have been a previous temple at the place).

Most, if not all, countries have a mix of truth and legend concerning their history and, as you  may have guessed, Portugal is no exception.

Despite all the mystery this chapel represents a nice bridge between the Romanesque and Gothic types of architecture and, let’s face it, who doesn’t like a good legend?

Enjoy! 🙂

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