Guimarães Castle

Guimarães was one of my favorite stops on our visit to Portugal.  We spent most of the day visiting Guimarães Castle and its neighbor, Braganza Palace.  The castle is one of the most important places in the country, known as the “Birthplace of Portugal” because it was here that Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s first king, was born in 1106.

The castle was not the first fortification on this spot.  In the tenth century, Momadona Dias, one of the most powerful women in Portugal’s long history, had a castle built on the hill to protect the nearby monastery that she had founded.

Henry of Burgundy, the first Count of the County of Portugal, had the original castle demolished and a new castle built on its spot.  It’s near here where the young Afonso, during the Battle of São Mamede, defeated the forces led by his mother in 1128 and declared himself Prince of Portugal.  In 1139 Afonso was declared King of Portugal and, in 1143, the neighboring nations recognized his sovereignty.

It doesn’t take long to explore the castle, but it’s worth the time.  In addition to the walls and towers, the central keep houses an interesting little museum outlining the history of Guimarães and Afonso. You also get plenty of great views of the surrounding area, including Braganza Palace.

Guimaraes Castle

Afonso Henriques, Portugal’s First King

Much has been made of Portugal’s influence on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.  Rowling was living in Porto when she began working on her wonderful series of books, so it’s no wonder that Livraria Lello, the beautiful bookstore in Porto, inspired Diagon Alley’s premier bookstore, Flourish and Blotts, as well as Hogwart’s wonderful moving staircases.

Another potential Portuguese influence on the Harry Potter series may be the legendary Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.  Born in Guimarães in 1106, Afonso Henriques was the son of Henri of Burgundy, a French noble, and Teresa of León, the daughter of King Alfonso VI of León and Castile where Portugal was, at the time, a county.  While Afonso Henriques was not a wizard, his French and Galician parentage could make him Portugal’s “half-blood Prince”.

Afonso Henriques
Statue of Afonso Henriques in Guimarães

Afonso Henriques took the first step towards Portuguese independence in 1128,  when his army defeated Galician forces, led by his mother and her lover, Count Fernando Peres de Trava, in the battle of São Mamede.  Afonso’s fight to make Portugal an independent kingdom reached an important point in 1140 at the battle of Valdevez, when Portuguese forces defeated the army of Alfonso VII of León.  The victory led to Alfonso VII recognizing Portugal as a kingdom with the Treaty of Zamora.

Sao Bento Detail 4
The battle of Valdevez depicted on the wall of São Bento Railway Station in Porto

The victory over Alfonso VII’s army was an important step towards independence, but it wasn’t until 1179 that Portugal was recognized as an independent kingdom, and Afonso as king, when Pope Alexander III issued a papal bull recognizing the kingdom.

Afonso Henriques, now Afonso I, made Coimbra his residence, where he funded the construction of the Santa Cruz Monastery and the Sé Velha, or old cathedral, and is buried in the Santa Cruz Monastery.   Afonso Henriques died in 1185, after leading Portugal for 46 years as the country’s first king.

Old Cathedral
The construction of the Sé Velha, or old Cathedral, was funded by Afonso Henriques

Understandably, Afonso Henriques is a Portuguese hero and his legend has not dimmed in the 900 years since his birth.  Portugal’s first king is honored with statues and paintings throughout the country.  He has also been the subject of several postage stamps, including this heroic likeness from 1940, which commemorates the 800th anniversary of Portuguese Independence.

Portugal Anniversary