Situated high on a plateau near Portugal’s north-eastern frontier with Spain, the ancient city of Bragança was once the seat of the Dukes of Bragança, Portugal’s fourth and final dynasty, which ruled the country from 1640 to 1910.
Capital of the Trás-os-Montes region, one of Europe’s wildest and most remote areas, it was the Celtic Brigantia and the Roman Juliobriga.
The strategic 680-metre-high hilltop was the site of a succession of forts before Fernão Mendes, brother-in-law to King Afonso Henriques, built a walled citadel there in 1130. Within its walls stand King Sancho I’s castle, built in 1187 with an assortment of watchtowers, dungeons and a 33-metre keep and a collection of whitewashed houses connected by an ancient network of cobbled streets and stairways.
Nearby, the pentagonal 12th-century Domus Municipalis is the country’s only surviving example of Romanesque civic architecture and the oldet city hall in the country, while the adjacent church of Santa Maria (18th century) features a strikingly elaborate carved portal.
Besides the citadel, Bragança has a rich array of cultural attractions to explore, most notably the Abade de Baçal Museum located on Rua Abilio Bessa. A learned scholar, Abade de Baçal (1865-1947) is valued for his exhaustive researches into the region’s history and customs, including its Jewish connections, which he published in 11 volumes. The museum’s exhibits include an unsigned 16th century painting called The Martyrdom of St Ignatius and collections of costumes and instruments of torture.
Other places worth seeing include the churches of São Bento (founded in 1590) and 13th century São Vicente, where the secret wedding of Inês de Castro and King Pedro I is said to have taken place.
Historically, Bragança was a strategic border fortress and gives good access to Spain a short drive away. It also provides a convenient base for exploring the Parque Natural de Montesinho, a delightful expanse of heathery uplands and densely forested hills dotted with charming villages.