Here in Portugal, if you ask someone what he knows about the city of Guimarães, we listen very often "the cradle of the Nation", that its historical center has been classified as World Heritage, that it is one of the best preserved cities in Portugal. All of this is true. Indeed, tradition claims that Guimarães is the birth place of the first king of Portugal. After being recognised as a village, Guimarães was considered the main centre of “Condado Portucalense”, the feudal province that belonged to Leon Kingdom (Spain). After the decisive victory at the Battle of S. Mamede, in Guimarães, D. Afonso Henriques is granted the independence of the “Condado Portucalense” which led to the foundation of the Portuguese nation. In 2001 UNESCO classified the historical centre as World Heritage and the city is known by the quality of its well preserved cities, buildings, museums and churches (click this link for more information).
In the 5th century, the countess Mumadona Dias built a fortress to defend the village. Around this castle the medieval city of Guimarães was formed. The history of the castle is deeply connected to the foundation of the country. According to the tradition, it was here the first king of Portugal was born. The Palace, dating from the 15th century, has vast dimensions, with architectural features of fortified house with numerous cylindrical chimneys that show the influence of the architecture of northern Europe and it is a unique example in the Iberian Peninsula. The sixteenth century marks the beginning of a gradual abandonment and subsequent ruin that worsened until the twentieth century. The rebuilding started in 1937 until 1959 when it was opened to the public and transformed into a museum.
Walking the streets of Guimarães takes visitors back in time; the narrow streets where you can find at every turn the traces of a past but lively History. The churches with their stunning beauty and richness, the buildings that tell stories. The ancient squares throbbing with history and people rushing or simply having a coffee.
Here in Guimarães you can see places that perfectly mix tradition and modernity. One example is the “Plataforma das Artes e Criatividade”, a project that has transformed an old market into a multipurpose place dedicated to artistic, cultural and entrepreneurial activities. Another remarkable project is an educational vegetable garden, a project that seeks to balance the urban areas and Nature. The responsible entities want to improve the social and recreational role that agriculture plays by increasing hands-on experience and environmental education.
But this city is also a symbol of innovation and industrial growth. Over the centuries, many industries have been settled here: cutlery, weaving, leather tanning and silverware.
Near Guimarães there are many enterprises that produce all types of textile goods, sheets, towels and clothing items. Some companies from early 20th century are still working! In the city centre, the municipality has recovered a primitive industrial area where people used to work the leather in very harsh conditions and exposed to the elements (this area is known as “Couros).
The university of Minho known by its technical trainings in particular with respect to IT, has provided strong impetus and vitality to the region.
But there is more to say about Guimarães than the city centre. If you go up to Penha, you can enjoy a magnificent view over the city and the surroundings and stop at “Convento de Santa Marinha da Costa”, an ancient monastery from 1154, restored and transformed into a luxury inn. Always a good idea to have a coffee there! After a few kilometres, you will find the mount “Penha”. Here, besides the splendid view, you can enjoy this small piece of paradise with caves, large and leafy trees and plants ideal for rest.
Near Guimarães, 7 km away, a small village called S. Torcato offers this magnificent sanctuary, which was built in late 19th century, a large granite building combining Romanesque and Gothic features. In Caldas das Taipas, another small village near Guimarães, you can visit the thermal baths that date back to the Roman Empire.
With reference to the most iconic festivities, Guimarães celebrates its “city festival” called “Gualterianas” with a parade of carriages, the procession of the Saint Patron St. Gualter. In November another important celebration, the “Nicolinas”, a festivity that celebrates the Saint Patron of students, St. Nicolas; the students parade playing drums. The parade ends when the students bury a pine tree carried by a pair of oxen.
To finish this small tour around Guimarães, it is an absolute must to speak about the region's gastronomy. Several restaurants offer typical dishes from Minho region such as “caldo verde” (a cabbage soup), the codfish with cornbread, the roasted octopus, the duck rice, the “rojões” (small fried cubes of pork) and the “papas de sarrabulho” (a kind of bread broth with shredded meat and blood. In the many and excellent pastry shops you can taste some of Guimarães' specialties like “Tortas” (layers of puffed pastry filled with pumpkin jelly, egg yolks and almonds), “Toucinho do céu” (a kind of pie with pumpkin jelly, egg yolks and almonds) and the “Douradinhas” (another way of mixing pumpkin jelly, egg yolks and almonds).