Braga: The Portuguese Rome

Braga, located in the north west of Portugal just inland from the Costa Verde, is the commercial, business and religious capitol of the Minho Region. It sits between the mountains of the Este and Cavado River Valleys, and is one of the most beautiful cities in Portugal, with mild winters and summers, and enough rain to keep the area very green. This city, with its population of 110,000 people, is the third largest in the country, and boasts no skyscrapers, choosing instead to preserve its historic architecture. Located just under an hour from Porto, it easily reached if one flies into the Porto International Airport which is just 35km south of Braga. From there one can either take the train or a coach to this beautiful city, which boasts over 2000 years of history. In town there are both taxis and buses that can get you to the different points of interest, but the historic center is easily visited on foot. Braga is known for its many festivals, monuments and handicrafts, and its visitors and locals alike also enjoy mountain trekking on the green hills just outside the city.

 Like so much of Europe, Braga was first settled by a Celtic tribe called the Bracari, to later be taken by the Romans around 250 B.C. At this point it was referred to as Bracara Augusta and was the Roman capitol of the Galicia Region. In 456 Theordore II took control of Braga and imposed his Catholic faith, which still dominates there even today. After the fall of Rome, different tribes controlled the region, including the Suevi, the Visigoths and the Moors. Control of the city shifted between the Catholics and Moors for a number of centuries, but it eventually fell under control of Ferdinand of Castile in 1040, and then under the control of Leon, becoming a part of Teresa of Leon’s dowry when she wed Henry, the Earl of Burgundy, in 1095. Today Braga takes great pride in its Catholic heritage, with more religious monuments than anywhere else in Portugal, rivaling Rome itself.

Some Attractions

Santuario do Bom Jesus do Monte

The Good Jesus Sanctuary is one of the most famous monuments in Portugal, and the most visited in the Minho Region. It was built by Carlos Amarante in a combination of the Late Baroque and Neoclassical styles, celebrating the relationship between nature and man in its design. With its twin towers and grey and white stone, the church sits about 400 meters above sea level on a hill, surrounded by beautiful gardens. The easiest way to reach the sanctuary is to take the Hydraulic Funicar, or tram, which was built in 1882. From the top one is rewarded with outstanding views of the region, even as far as the beaches of Esposende. Buses for the Sanctuary leave the center of Braga every half hour most days.

Antigo Paço Arguiepiscopal Bracarense

The Archbishop’s Palace is made up of three wings built in different times. The East Wing was built in the 16th century in the Gothic style, while the South Wing was begun in the 16th century, but not completed until the 18th century. The West Wing was constructed in the Baroque style in the 18th century. The grandeur of the palace attests to the importance of the Catholic Church in the region. The whole structure is surrounded by beautiful gardens dedicated to Santa Barbara, and the whole is worth seeing.

The Sé

Braga’s cathedral was built by Henry of Burgundy and Teresa of Leon on the site of the ruined Church of Santa Maria that was destroyed by the Moors. Consecrated in 1093, the church was added onto over the years and has elements of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture. Within is the Sacred Heart Museum which has a wonderful collection of sacred art dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. The high altar and font are worth seeing, and the church boasts two great organs and a number of Manueline religious sculptures.

 Shrine of Sameiro

Built in the mid 19th century, this shrine to Mary is considered the greatest center for Marian devotion in Portugal, with the exception of Fatima.

 Torre de Menagem

Referred to as The Keep, this tower is the only remaining part of the Castle of Braga built by King Ferdinand. The citadel was built in the 14th century and was demolished in 1906.

Palácio do Biscaínhos

The Palace of the Biscayans is a museum which celebrates the life of Portuguese Nobility from the 17th to the 18th centuries. Housed in a Baroque palace and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the museum has a great collection of decorative arts which reflect the domestic, social and cultural habits of the time.

The Roman Baths

Remnants of the Roman occupation of Braga can still be found around the city. These Roman Baths date from the 1st-5th century. Of interest is also the Fonte do Idolo, a Roman Fountain and shrine that was dedicated to the local River god and is believed to be from the Bracara Augusta period.

Palacete do Raio

Commonly referred to as the Mexican House, this palace was built in the Rocaille Style in the 18th century. It was built as a residence and features amazing doorway decorations and a unique blue and grey façade.

 Camara Municipal

Braga’s Town Hall was built by Andre Soares in the 18th century. It features an image of the Madonna over the main entrance referred to as Nossa Senhora do Livramento. In front of the hall notice the Fonte do Pelicano, an 18th century fountain that once sat in the Archbishop’s Palace gardens.




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