Saturday, October 16, 2021

Portugal has 13 areas World Heritage sites, declared by UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization). All sites are worth visiting for a Day Out in Portugal.

For the most part, the sites lie in the central and northern regions of portugal, although 3 are outside the continent on Madeira and the Azores. Two sites, the rock paintings in the Côa Valley and the laurel forest of Madeira, are from prehistoric times whereas another two are recognised for the ways man has coaxed fruitful vineyards from the land. The revered first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, is associated with three sites which today claim the treasured UNESCO recognition.  

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In the European listings of UNESCO sites, Portugal ranks high in number. Topping it are Italy (40), Spain (37), Germany (30), France (29), UK (26), Russian Federation (20), Greece (15), and Sweden (13). But all these countries are bigger than Portugal.

Here are more detials of the 13 sites, in no particular order;

  1. Historic centre of GuimarãesThis is the town associated with the emergence of the Portuguese national identity in the 12th century. As the first capital of the country, it is considered the place where the country was born. In 1128 Afonso Henriques defeated his mother’s army and declared himself the first king of Portugal. The town is very well-preserved and an authentic example of the evolution of a Medieval settlement into a modern town. The consistent use of traditional building techniques and materials makes it possible to trace the development of Portuguese architecture from the 15th to the 19th centuries.

  2. Alto Douro Wine Region. For more than 2.000 years wine has been made from the grapes grown in the Douro region, in the North of Portugal. The main product is Port wine which has been world famous since the 18th century. The long tradition of wine-growing has created a physical and cultural landscape of outstanding beauty, including charming towns, villages, manor houses, chapels and terraces. The fast flowing river was perilous for the rabelo boats carrying the wine barrels until 19th century workers carved railway lines into the steep hills. Dams, introduced in the 20th century for flood control and electricity production, tamed the Douro and today it is possible to travel its length by boat from Porto to the Spanish border.

  3. Alcobaça Monastery. The imposing monastery dominates the small town of Alcobaça in a fertile agricultural region dotted with gentle hills. It is in the District of Leiria in central Portugal. It is one of the few European monuments to preserve intact an entire group of medieval buildings and the church is the largest early Gothic construction in Portugal. Founded in 1153 by King Afonso Henriques (see also 7.Tomar and 1.Guimarães) as thanksgiving for having recovered Santarem from the Moors in 1147, his desire to create a grand structure resulted in an architectural masterpiece. The Cistercian order's belief in simplicity can be seen at the core of the monastery, but later additions sought grandeur. It was king Afonso IV who ordered the murder of his son's beloved mistress; in the monastery, the tombs of both the future King Pedro I and Inês de Castro are a reminder of their tragic love story.

  4. Central zone of the town of Angra do Heroismo, Azores. Until the 15th century the Mediterranean looked inward upon itself, but being at the outer edge, perhaps it was inevitable that the Portuguese also looked westward. In 1497 they came upon the Azores, creating a port which developed into a major strategic point in Portugal’s great maritime discoveries. The 400 year old fortifications of San Sebastião and San João provide unique examples of military architecture. The town was an obligatory stop-off port from the 15th century until the introduction of steamships in the 19th century.

  5. The Tower of Belem and the Monastery of Jeronimos, Lisbon. Guarding the entrance to Lisbon’s harbour, Belem Tower was completed in 1520 to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s expedition and a reminder of all the great maritime discoveries that laid the foundations of the modern world. Beautiful and jewel-like, people at the time viewed it as a formidable and fearsome fortress. The nearby monastery was built by Henry the Navigator as a small chapel but the subsequent large monastery illustrates the powerful financial resources the crown then enjoyed. It is an illustration of superlative Portuguese architecture. Both mark the historic site of the port from which the great maritime expeditions used to set sail.

  6. Historic centre of Evora. Evora's history dates back to before the Romans occupation, it and was later wrested from the Moors by Geraldo the Fearless in 1166. It flourished under the Romans and became one of the most dynamic cities in the Kingdom of Portugal during the Middle Ages reaching its golden age in the 15th century when it became the residence of the kings of Portugal. The city is like an outdoor museum with so many treasures; the cathedral is the largest in Portugal. Another famous ruin is a Roman temple, kept intact for so many centuries owing to the fact that it had been bricked over to allow it to serve as a cattle pen!

  7. Convent of Christ in Tomar. Tomar, Santarem. From Queen Teresa and later her son, King Afonso, the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem received significant land and the Knights began building Tomar castle in 1160. Formed in three distinct walled enclosures surrounded by an extensive outer wall, the largest enclosure was the walled town (later emptied of inhabitants in the 16th century), the Templars devoted another area to their impressive palace. The buildings eventually became viewed as a symbol of Portugal's influence on other civilizations. In the early 1300s when the Knights Templar were banned, Tomar was transferred to the Knights of the Order of Christ whose symbol was a large cross with straight arms, the very symbol carried by the caravels on the great voyages of discovery. Their exploits were recorded in the later architecture of the Convent. Subsequent additions by various kings have left us a magnificent ensemble of 12th to 16th century architecture.

  8. Monastery of Batalha. Near Batalha (Leiria, Central Portugal). In August 1385 a battle decisive in the consolidation of Portugal as a nation, was led by the future king D. João I against the Castilians. The Monastery of the Dominicans of Batalha was built to commemorate this victory. As events turned out, it was the main building project for Portugal's kings over the following two centuries, with each king wishing to leave his particular mark on the construction. Ironically, what are called As Capelas Imperfeitas (The Imperfect Chapels) stand empty and testify that the monastery was never actually finished. Nevertheless, it is one of the most fascinating Gothic monuments on the Iberian peninsula. Henry the Navigator, his parents (King João and Philippa of Lancaster) and many other royals are entombed within.

  9. Laurissilva of MadeiraThe archipelago forming Madeira contains an outstanding relic of a previously widespread laurel forest, indeed the largest surviving area of laurel forest in the world. In prehistory the vast forest covered most of southern Europe and the Mediterranean basin until destroyed by ice age intervention, surviving only in Madeira, the Azores and the Canary Islands. In Madeira it further survived five centuries of humanisation and to this day constitutes 20 per cent of the island. The forest is a centre of plant and animal diversity with a number of rare endemic species.

  10. Landscape of the Pico Island vineyard culture. Volcanic Pico is the second largest island in the Azores archipelago. Covering 987 hectares, a remarkable pattern of well spaced, long, linear walls runs from the volcanic slopes down to the sea, protecting the thousands of small plots from wind and seawater. Viniculture dates from the 15th century, the people were determined in the face of the terrain’s challenge, to produce wine. The response was unique and resulted in a beautiful man-made landscape.

  11. Historic centre of Oporto. Oporto was built up on hillsides overlooking the mouth of the River Douro. From its strategic Atlantic position and natural north-south intersection, it carved a role in international sea trade. An outstanding urban landscape was produced over its 1,000 years of habitation. Centuries of thriving commercial activity resulted in remarkable buildings such as the impressive Cathedral, the neoclassical Stock Exchange building, and the typically Manueline-style 15th century Church of Santa Clara. No visit can be complete without touring at least one traditional Port wine house to be impressed by the history and the varied tastes of the Port produced.

  12. Prehistoric rock art sites in the Côa Valley. Through the imposing northeast mountains, the River Côa tributary runs into the mighty Duoro. The vast river valley contains an exceptional concentration of rock carvings from the Upper Palaeolithic era (22.000-10.000 BC). Thousands of carvings create an extensive outdoor art gallery providing a record of Neolithic and Iron Age life and art. It is said to be the most outstanding example of early human activity in this form anywhere in the world.

  13. Cultural landscape of Sintra. A magical place where man and landscape meet, this town gives a glimpse of many ages. The town itself retains its medieval layout of winding narrow lanes, and is dominated by the National Palace, which began in the 15th century and the seat of countless important historical events – kings were born, proclaimed, imprisoned, and died here. In the 19th century, Sintra became the first centre of European Romantic architecture, a trend initiated when King Ferdinand II turned a ruined monastery into a castle drawing on inspiration from Gothic, Egyptian, Moorish and Renaissance art. Sintra’s special microclimate provides Portugal with some of its most beautiful parks containing exotic plant species.

Thanks to for this article.