King Dinis - Portugal

None of Portugal’s kings was as forward-thinking and gifted as Dinis (1261-1325), who wrote dozens of poems of a romantic nature, including many about his wife, Elizabeth of Aragon.

The fifth of the Burgundian kings, Dinis was a warm, benevolent man of great foresight who inherited the throne in 1279 at the tender age of eighteen and ruled Portugal with bursting energy and rare imagination until his death in 1325.

Keen to devote himself to tasks other than war and destruction (like his predecessors), he was a prolific poet, songwriter, pupil of a French master and a true friend of the troubadours who regularly entertained the royal court.

He also founded the first university (which was originally estabished in Lisbon but later transferred to Coimbra in 1307)), established the beginnings of a navy, made Portuguese the country’s official language and began the famous fir tree plantation near Leiria in order to protect the low Estremadura bank against the relentless Atlantic waves.

When the Knights Templar dissolved on charges of corruption and morality in 1314, King Dinis simply relaunched their activities under the banner of the Order of Christ, whose wealth later became so enormous that it helped to finance the many voyages of exploration and discovery under the mastership of Henry the Navigator in the 15th century.

He also concerned himself with the production of barley and wheat and the improvement of crops in general, whilst at the same time introducing numerous country fairs (over forty in total) to encourage internal commerce amongst traders in the more rural areas of Portugal.

He married Elizabeth of Aragon (later to become known as the Holy Queen, St Elizabeth of Portugal) in the castle town of Trancoso in 1282 and chose Leiria, with its imposing castle, as their main place of residence.

The Kings of Portugal

She was the perfect, loving wife for her considerate, caring husband and chroniclers of that time often remarked on her humility, charity and virtue which extended to the performing of miracles, for which she was subsequently beatified in 1516 and canonised by Pope Urban VII in 1626.

They often spent the summer in the cooler confines of Sintra and had many happy times together at Estremoz Castle in Portugal’s enchanting Alentejo region, where she died in 1136.

During his long reign lasting almost 46 years, King Dinis also began building and expanding over fifty castles, the labours of which can still be seen all over Portugal, most notably on the country’s eastern frontier with Spain.

In addition to the city of Guarda, he boldly set about strengthening the towns of Penamacor, Castelo Mendo, Pinhel and a series of other historic villages and towns in an area known as the Ribacoa to secure the region against the constant threat of neighbouring Castile.

Besides providing the finance, he personally involved himself in the logistics of each castle project by calculating the precise dimensions of the towers and walls. His designs were always innovative and the construction often comprised decorations and fine details adorning the battlements and towers, unlike any other buildings of that period.

Other fortresses of particular note attributed to King Dinis include the noble marble keep of Beja Castle (1310) with its elegant double row of battlements and Serpa Castle (1295), the design of which incorporated an aqueduct.

His body rests in the Monastery of St Denis (Mosteiro de São Dinis), an exquisite 13th-century church located in Odivelas (indicated on the Google map below) just to the north of Lisbon. It was here that Philippa of Lancaster, the English queen, died in 1415 surrounded by three of her sons, including Prince Henry the Navigator.

Need more sightseeing ideas for your next visit? Listen to the Portugal Travel Show, the podcast for people planning a trip to sunny Portugal…