Located just down the hill from Guimarães Castle, the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza is a beautifully restored palace that was, at various times, the home to the Dukes of Braganza, a pile of ruins, Antonio Salazar’s Royal Palace, and, since 1910, a National Monument.
It’s hard to imagine that from the 16th century until the 19th century, the original palace was abandoned and left to fall into ruin. In the 19th century, there was a movement to restore the palace, and plans were drawn up to rebuild the palace. Reconstruction was finally begun in 1937 and, after more than two decades, the palace was finally opened in 1959.
Like the Biltmore House in my home state of North Carolina, it gives you a glimpse of the grandeur of the lives of the richest and most powerful people of their times. There are innumerable beautifully furnished spaces throughout the palace. You can spend hours exploring the rooms. There’s even a small museum of modern art in the palace.
This room is an example of the beauty of the palace. The heavy stone and wood construction is juxtaposed against richness of the wonderful tapestries. The beautiful vases are probably three feet tall. It’s a stunning collection of riches.
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.
In honor of International Women’s Day, I present Momadona Dias, who ruled the county of Portugal first jointly with her husband then, after his death, on her own. She was the most powerful woman in northwest Iberian Peninsula during the 19th century.
During her reign, she founded the Mosteiro of São Mamede in Vimaranes. To protect the monastery from Viking raids, she had the Castle of Guimarães built. Vimaranes eventually became Guimarães and the castle became, a century and a half later, the birthplace of the Kingdom of Portugal.
In the statue pictured below, Mumadona Dias holds a cross in her right hand and what appears to be the Castle of Guimarães in her left. I love how Portugal honors their heroes- men and women- with beautiful works of art that are not displayed in museums but in public where everyone can enjoy the art and remember their history.
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 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.
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.
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.
One of the things I love about digital photography is you have so many options regarding the finished photograph. When I was shooting film, I had to use specific films for specific results. With digital, you can shoot as a color photograph and, if you don’t like the result, use a photo editing application to modify the photo to your liking.
For instance, when we visited Portugal, I took hundreds of photographs. Many of them were “okay,” but after playing with them a bit I got something that I could live with. Here’s a photo of Guimarães Castle, the “Birthplace of Portugal,” so named because this is where Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, was born.
The original color photograph was fairly monochromatic, with the main colors being the greyish-brown of the granite and the grey-blue of the clouds. It wasn’t much to look at, but I thought it might make a nice black-and-white photo. I used Paint Shop Pro 2019 and Silver Efex Pro 2, one of the Nik Collection suite of plugins, to modify the photo.
If you’re not familiar with the Nik Collection, it’s a great set of seven plugins that allow you to use the included presets or, if you are a bit more adventurous, to play with individual settings to modify your photos in a variety of ways. In 2016 Google, the owner of the Nik Collection, began giving the suite away for free. In 2017 DxO purchased the Nik Collection from Google. It’s no longer free, but the $69 price tag is still a bargain.
So, back to the photograph. After playing with some of the presets, I finally settled on something I liked much better than the original color version. The darkened sky adds drama to the previously bland photo and the grain of the stones stands out much better in black and white. In the days of shooting film, this would have never seen the light of day. With digital it’s a photo I can live with.
The Palace of the Dukes of Braganza has seen a lot throughout its history. Originally built in the 15th century as the residence of Afonso, the first Duke of Braganza, it remained in the family until the end of the century, when it was closed.
Several years later the palace was passed to the House of Aziz, when it was given as dowry to Isabel of Braganza when she wed the Infante Edward, the sixth son of King Manuel I. For many years it remained unused.
Over the next few centuries, the abandoned palace fell into ruins, as stone from the structure was taken to build or repair roads and structures in the area. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the palace was deemed beyond repair.
During the 1930s, plans were created for the restoration of the palace. The reconstructed palace was based on an analysis of various medieval palaces across Europe. The restoration was completed and the Palace of the Dukes of the Braganzas was opened to the public in 1959.
The restored palace was probably much more ornate than the original structure. The palace served for many years as the Presidential Palace during Antonio Salazar’s Estado Novo regime.
The palace is a beautiful place and well worth a tour. We spend a couple hours exploring the building and its many beautiful possessions. In addition to the historical rooms and belongings, there are a couple really nice modern art displays, including a Paolo Neves sculpture and an exhibit of art by local artist José de Guimarães.
Born in Guimarães in 1939, José de Guimarães is one of Portugal’s most important artists of contemporary art. His art is exhibited all over the world. The small art gallery at the Dukes of Braganza Palace is dedicated to the city’s most famous artist, and has a great selection of his work.
This stone hall is in the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza in Guimarães, Portugal. I love the texture of the stone and the way the light “bends” as it goes from the floor to the wall opposite the doorway. I also like the austerity of the hall. Much of the Dukes of Braganza is given over to extravagance. This simple hall appeals to me more than the palace’s many large rooms full of treasures.
In March we visited the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza in Guimarães, Portugal. A beautiful structure, it’s hard to believe that a century ago the palace was in ruins. It was renovated based on an analysis of other European palaces of the 15th century. The newly reconstructed palace was opened to the public in 1959 and once served as an official residence of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.
The palace is full of interesting rooms with priceless antiques and paintings, but this arched staircase, with a simple wooden door at the bottom, caught my eye. It’s primitive and elegant at the same time.