BELMONTE HISTORY

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A village as old as Portugal. Since 1500, it has been as famous in Brazil as it is in Portugal. The village of Belmonte received its foral charter in 1199 and can be found in the beautiful Esperança hill (former Crested hills).

 

Due to it being a time of war between the Leonese and the Castilian, the castle of Belmonte was upgraded during the reign of kings Afonso III, Dinis and João I.

 

The village of Belmonte received its foral charter in 1199 and can be found in the beautiful Esperança hill (former Crested hills), in which rockiest hill, at the end of the 12th century, its castle was built, which, along with the Sortelha and Vila de Touro castles, formed the line of defense of the Alto Côa region until the signing of the Alcanices treaty, backed by the natural wall of the Estrela mountain range and of the Zêzere valley.

Cabral family’s bravery and loyalty have always been legendary and feared, especially those from its first alcaide-mor (governor) – Fernando Cabral – who, after being nominated permanently and for all generations to come in 1466 by King Afonso V, would turn the castle into a fortified manor house, where his son Pedro Álvares Cabral would live the first years of his life.

 

In 1989, the first Jewish community in Belmonte was established officially, with a synagogue being inaugurated in 1997; nowadays, it is one of the few communities with a Rabi.

 

In the 13th century, a prosper Jewish community already existed in Belmonte, with a synagogue dating from 1296, probably living in the Jewish quarter in the current neighborhood of Marrocos. As a result of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 by the Catholic Monarchs, it is likely that this community grew until 1496, when King Manuel I decrees the forced conversion to Catholicism, followed by several persecutions and the creation of a crypto-Jewish community that survived through the centuries, keeping its rituals and traditions. King Manuel I also renews Belmonte’s foral charter in 1510.

 

A trip around Esperança hill

From the landscapes of the Zêzere valley to the charm and mysteries of the Centum Cellas tower, crossing bridges, villages with beautiful manors and stories of ancient mines.

 

To take the walking tour along the historic center of Belmonte Village that we presented in the previous page and to take this trip around the Esperança hill, book a stay of at least two days in one of Belmonte’s hotels.

 

Before leaving Belmonte, stop near the Town Hall to admire the magnificent Zêzere valley, with its wide, sandy bed, surrounded by alders, green fields and lush orchards of apple and peach trees.

Leaving Belmonte by EN 345 road, head down to the junction with EN 18 road and turn right, to the north, following the road along the Ribeira de Gaia, a tributary of the Zêzere river, whose wealth in tin of its alluvia of cassiterite was explored by the romans, or maybe even before, and more recently by the Americans, between 1910 and 1940. Two thirds of a mile ahead, turn right towards Colmeal da Torre where, at the entrance of the village, you can find the Roman Archeological Site of Centum Cellas, an ancient roman village from the 1st century AD, linked with agriculture and mining in the region. In addition to the proud and fabulous preserved tower, consisting of huge granitic ashlars, purposely made to fit each other, the ongoing excavations revealed the schematics of the rest of the building and its different stages of construction. If, in the meantime, it’s time for lunch, be sure to try the trout, the hare rice in iron pot, the cabrito (young goat) stew or roast, followed by the traditional Papas de carolo (corn porridge).

From Inguias, head south, towards the EN 18-3 road, where you should turn right towards Caria, an ancient and noble village of the Belmonte municipality. At the top of the village, you can find the Casa da Torre, former summer residence of the Bishops of Guarda, built in 1322. Right beside it, you can visit the baroque Church of Immaculate Conception, from the beginnings of the 18th century, with a remarkable gilt altar, finely designed, with coffered ceilings with thirty two painted altarpieces. Visit also the cluster of houses next to the 18th century manor of the Quevedo Pessanha family; further down, you will find the Solar dos Condes de Caria, from the 19th century.
Duration: 1 day. Total distance: 25 km (15 miles).

 

In the land of Pedro Álvares Cabral

A walking tour along the historic center of Belmonte, hand in hand with the monuments that saw this famous navigator grow.
Five hundred years after the discovery of Brazil, enjoy Cabral’s statue at the Largo António José de Almeida, 300 feet away from the Town Hall. Walk along Rua 1.º de Maio to the beautiful Praça da República, with emphasis on the old Town Hall building, with its clock tower and where the Tourism Office is located, the 15th century pillory and, around it, a remarkable group of houses where you can buy local crafts. Continuing along to the Largo Afonso Costa, turn left and climb the Rua do Castelo.

Visit the castle, which consists of the keep, traces from the old house of the alcaide (Paço dos Cabrais) and a modern outdoors amphitheater, surrounded by imposing walls. Don’t forget to climb to the Manueline style window, a true granitic jewel, from where you can gaze at the Estrela mountain range in all its splendor. In front of the castle, see the Santo António (16th century) and Calvário (19th century) churches, and, on the right, the Brazilian pau santo Cross (replica of the one erected by Cabral on the first mass celebrated in Brazil), offered in the 1950s by Brazilian president Kubichek de Oliveira.

 

Also on the right, the roman São Tiago church is worth a visit; in the main chapel, you will find different layers of overlapping frescos, which were painted during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The side altar, also known as Our Lady of Piety chapel, is a precious Gothic piece with finely worked capitals and where you can find the tomb of Maria Gil Cabral, who founded the chapel in the 14th, and an extremely rare Pietà of polychrome granite.

Don’t forget to visit the Cabral Pantheon, where there are some remains of Pedro Álvares Cabral, along with those of other members of the family. After exiting this temple, on the right, note the bell tower that makes up this whole religious complex. After passing the Rua da Judiaria and visiting the new synagogue, return to the castle yard, where every year the traditional log is lit.

Go down again along Rua do Castelo and follow Rua 25 de Abril towards the Church of the Holy Family; in the altar of the church, you can see the Our Lady of Hope’s image that, according to tradition, accompanied Pedro Álvares Cabral do Brazil.