Sunday, November 9, 2008

Portugal Vacations Famous Portuguese Landmarks

In the previous post of Portugal Vacations I told you a little about some important things to remember while on your Portugal vacation. In this post I would like give you some travel information on Portugal's landmarks. Since Portugal has thousands of historically important buildings, this is by no means an exhaustive list. That said, this short Portugal guide is intended to show you some of the more eye-catching structures in Portugal.

But first, imagine that you've just started your family vacation and are now in Portugal. The warm Portuguese sun is shining, and you've just checked into one of the beautiful Portuguese Pousadas. Let's imagine that you are staying the night at one of the beautifully restored Portuguese castles and are now looking out into the gorgeous Portuguese mountainside.

Now that you've settled in, what next? In my opinion, a stroll around the Pousada grounds is in order. I suggest getting familiar with the history and culture, perhaps a drive to a local town for an espresso would be a good start. After settling in and getting acquainted with the lay of the land, I suggest that you start your Portugal vacation by heading over to one of the thousands of historical monuments.

For such a small country, Portugal has one of the largest number of historical monuments, ancient cathedrals and castles per square kilometer in Europe, if not the world. Portugal is indeed unique, because the former kings of Portugal decided to convert much of their wealth gained during Portugal's age of discovery into building Portugal's national treasures. In fact, Portugal is one of the few nations on the planet to claim honor to a unique form of architecture, called the Manueline style. Manueline is a form of Portuguese Gothic architecture that includes ornate designs primarily on windows and doorways. Many of the buildings are so lavishly designed that they may shock a more reserved tourist from Canada or the United States. I'll outline a small handful of Portuguese Monuments to give you an idea of the treat that's in store for you. Your Portuguese vacation isn't complete until you visited these amazing historical buildings.

Guimarães Castle

The Guimarães Castle is considered one of the most important buildings in Portugal due to its historical significance. It was from Guimarães castle that both an independent Portugal was born and from where Dom Afonso Henrique, Portugal's first King, continued the Christian Reconquest of Portugal, by capturing Moorish held lands to the south. Portuguese folklore says that so great was his strength that Dom Afonso Henrique could cut a man in half at the waist with a single strike from his heavy sword. He was indeed the most significant man in the birth of the Portuguese nation. Guimarães castle should not be missed on your next Portugal vacation.

The Batalha Monastery

The Batalha Monastery, is located in the town of Batalha, in the District of Leiria. It is a Late Gothic architecture spiced up with Manueline style.

King D. João I began construction of the monastery to thank the Virgin Mary after the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 where the highly outnumbered Portuguese defeated the larger Castilian army.

Although construction commenced in 1386 the monastery itself took almost 2 hundred years to build, in which time many architects were involved, each adding a different flavor to the majestic structure. The Batalha Monastery was put on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and today serves as a museum. Be sure to add the Batalha Monestary to your itinerary, as it is a must see in any Portugal vacation.

The Pena National Palace

The site where the Pena Palace stands was originally occupied by a small chapel built in the middle ages and dedicated to Our Lady Of Pena after a apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen in that place. For centuries the small chapel was used for meditative purposes, and many people generally have a feeling of calm in that area. The great earthquake of 1755, which left much of Lisbon in ruins also severely damaged the chapel, and it wasn't until 1838 when King Ferdinand decided to purchase the chapel ruins and surrounding territory to commence the building the Pena Palace. Construction spanned from 1842-1854, in which time ornate Manueline designs were infused into this Romantic style building. The Pena palace is an inspiring place to visit, and people often leave the premises in awe and amazement. It is today on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and a must see on your Portugal vacation.

Belém Tower

Located on the banks of the Tagus in Lisbon, this beautifully ornate Belém Tower is said to have been been used as a customs outpost for incoming ships during Portugal's age of discovery. It also offered protection to the city itself. It is a great example of Manueline architecture and a must see on your Portugal vacation.

Jerónimos Monaster

Just a stone throw from the Belém Tower, the Jerónimos Monastery is one of the most beautiful examples of Manueline architecture. Started in 1502 and taking about 50 years to build, the monastery is the resting place of the great Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, and is a must see on your Portugal vacation.

Convent of the Order of Christ

The Convent of the Order of Christ was built by the Knights Templar in about 1160 and remained under their control until the European backlash against the Templars in 1312. Portugal's king Dinis saw the Templars as an important and vital part of the autonomy of Portugal and refused to buckle to European pressure of jailing and executing the Templars as was done in much of Europe at that time. Instead, king Dinis renamed the Knights Templar, The Order Of Christ effectively saving the order. The Order Of Christ served Portugal well during both the Christian Reconquest as well as Portugal's Age Of Discovery. Don't miss this impressive structure on your next Portuguese Vacation.

Santa Maria da Feira Castle

Located between Porto and Aveiro in Portugal's central Region, the Santa Maria da Feira Castle is a gorgeous medieval castle that still resonates with history.

Quinta da Regaleira

Situated in Sintra and built between 1904 - 1910 the Quinta da Regaleira emanates mysticism. Infused with cryptic symbols of alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar and the Rosicrucians, the Quinta should not be missed on your Portugal vacation.

As you can see from the above images, there is much to see in Portugal. But the above is only a small tip of a large iceberg in what you can see in this wonderful country. There are thousands of important historical sites dating from many historical periods. On your next Portugal vacation, be sure to put your walking shoes on and your city guides out, because you will be in for a real treat.

Images above:

The Quinta da Regaleira:: Lusitana


Melanie said...

Matt, your photos are beautiful! My husband and I have long wanted to go to Portugal for the wine tasting...but now we're just as keen to see the view from the Pena National palace and the art nouveau craziness of the Sintra. Thanks for providing some great travel inspiration!

Melanie Waldman
Travels With Two

Matt said...

Hi Melanie,

Thank your for those kind words. I'm glad that my little blog has inspired you to explore Portugal. I hope you have a fantastic time in Portugal.