Despite being a town, Almeida is considered one of the “12 Historical Villages of Portugal” (a program created by the Portuguese government in 1991, to restore and enhance a series of villages in the Beira Interior region, older than the country itself).
Almeida belongs to the Guarda district and is located very close to the Spanish border and two other historical villages: Castelo Mendo and Castelo Rodrigo. Besides, it’s internationally known for its fortress, which forms a twelve-pointed star, thanks to its six bulwarks and six ravelins!
So, do you want to know more about 1 Day In Almeida: The Perfect Almeida Itinerary? Keep reading!
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- Brief History of Almeida
- Visiting Almeida
- Almeida Itinerary
- Double Gates of Saint Francis
- Former Convent of Our Lady of Loreto & Mother Church of Our Lady of Light
- Historical-Military Museum
- “Roda dos Expostos” House (Orphanage)
- Hotel Fortaleza de Almeida (or Former Pousada da Senhora das Neves)
- High Square & Blood Hospital
- Picadeiro d’El Rey (Riding School)
- CEAMA – Almeida Center for Military Architecture Studies
- Ruins of the Castle of Almeida
- Clock Tower
- Town Hall (or Former Main Corps of Guard)
- Palace of Justice and Civil Registry (or Former Beira General Inspectorate & Governors’ House)
- Former Town Hall
- Map of the Almeida Itinerary
- More Posts about Portugal
- More Posts about Travel Itineraries
- What Photography Gear Do I Use?
Brief History of Almeida
As I mentioned in the introduction, the origins of Almeida (and the other Historical Villages) predate the foundation of Portugal as a country. Several peoples have passed through here – such as the Lusitanians and the Romans – but it was the Arabs who gave it its name and built the first castle, between the 8th and 9th centuries.
During the Reconquista (a historical period of almost eight centuries, during which the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula fought against the Muslims for domination of the region), Almeida was conquered and handed over to the Portuguese. After this event at the end of the 13th century, its urban core began to develop and grow rapidly and its Castle was rebuilt.
However, the so-called Philippine Dynasty, which ruled Portugal from 1580 to 1640, brought a lot of political instability to the country. Thus, the need arose to modernize the defensive structures of the Middle Ages, in order to protect that border region.
Work on the fortification began in 1641 and was guided by French military engineers Charles Lassart and Pedro Gilles de Saint Paul, following the method of Antoine Deville. The Praça-Forte de Almeida has a hexagonal layout and is protected by a series of bulwarks (or bastions), ravelins surrounded by a moat, casemates (underground shelters), and posterns (“secret” passages for military use).
Although you can visit Almeida in just one day, there are many things to see and do! The so-called “Estrela do Interior” (which means, “Star of the Countryside”) has not only several historical, military, and religious buildings to discover, but also its own fortified circuit that you can walk through. This consists of:
- Ravelin of the Cross (or of Saint Francis)
- Saint Francis Bulwark
- Lovers Ravelin
- Saint John of God Bulwark
- Doble Ravelin
- Saint Barbara Bulwark
- Ravelin of the Ammunition Depot
- Bulwark of Our Lady of Brotas
- Ravelin of Saint Anthony
- Saint Anthony Bulwark
- Ravelin of the Breach
- Saint Peter Bulwark
I explored the historical village of Almeida counterclockwise. Therefore, the itinerary I’m going to suggest (as well as the order of the bulwarks and ravelins presented above) is also counterclockwise. But, feel free to change this route, if you prefer!
Honestly, some of the 12 Historical Villages of Portugal can be visited in one morning or afternoon, as is the case of Castelo Mendo, Idanha-a-Velha, Linhares da Beira, Marialva, Piódão, or Sortelha. As for the others, it depends on the number of monuments you want to include in your itinerary.
Since Almeida, Belmonte, Castelo Novo, Castelo Rodrigo, and Monsanto are towns, it’s likely that you’ll need a day (or two) to explore them from one end to the other. And the same happens with Trancoso, which is a city. By the way, here’s the list of the 12 Historical Villages of Portugal:
- Almeida, in the Guarda district
- Belmonte, in the Castelo Branco district
- Castelo Mendo, in the Guarda district
- Castelo Novo, in the Castelo Branco district
- Castelo Rodrigo, in the Guarda district
- Idanha-a-Velha, in the Castelo Branco district
- Linhares da Beira (or simply Linhares), in the Guarda district
- Marialva, in the Guarda district
- Monsanto, in the Castelo Branco district
- Piódão, in the Coimbra district
- Sortelha, in the Guarda district
- Trancoso, in the Guarda district
Double Gates of Saint Francis
The Double Gates of Saint Francis are the main entrance to the historical village of Almeida. Although the Exterior Gate (in the photo on the left) dates from the 19th century, the Interior Gate (or Magisterial Gate, in the photo on the right) was built in the 17th century, together with the remaining military architectural complex of the Praça-Forte de Almeida.
Also known as the Double Gates of the Cross, these cross the Ravelin of the Cross (or of Saint Francis) and have a guardhouse on the side. At that time, these rooms included an officer’s room, fireplace, and latrine.
Currently, the Interior Gate functions as Almeida’s Tourism Office, which is open from Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 12:30 pm and from 2 pm to 5:30 pm. On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, it opens one hour later (at 10 am), but otherwise, it’s the same as the weekly schedule.
Former Convent of Our Lady of Loreto & Mother Church of Our Lady of Light
The Nuns Convent of Our Lady of Loreto was built in the 16th century. However, the military needs that emerged in the following centuries (more specifically, in the 18th and 19th centuries) forced the adaptation of this religious residence to a military barracks and hospital.
The Church of Our Lady of Light, it was remodeled in the first half of the 19th century, to serve as Almeida‘s new main temple. This is because the original Mother Church – which was located within the Castle grounds – was destroyed during the Siege of Almeida, in 1810.
The Historical-Military Museum of Almeida is located in the old Casemates (or “Old Quarters”) of the Saint John of God Bulwark. With about twenty underground rooms, these Casemates had ventilation tunnels (except for three), as well as their own cistern and well, for water supply.
The Casemates of the Praça-Forte de Almeida were fundamental in times of war, such as at the beginning of the Third French Invasion (which provoked the so-called Siege of Almeida in August 1810). It was here that the population of this historical village hid and where supplies were stored.
The Historical-Military Museum of Almeida is open from Tuesday to Friday, from 9:15 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 5 pm. On weekends and holidays, the museum opens an hour later (at 10 am).
“Roda dos Expostos” House (Orphanage)
The “Roda dos Expostos” Houses were established in Portugal by magistrate Pina Manique in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the mechanism for abandoning newborns (known as “baby hatch” or “foundling wheel”), was already a recurrent practice in European Catholic societies since the 16th century.
This historic house in Almeida has two floors and dates back to 1843, as can be seen from the small window that replaced the revolving platform, where anonymous mothers placed their unwanted children. The site was also transformed into a museum, dedicated to the history and function of the “Roda dos Expostos” Houses.
Hotel Fortaleza de Almeida (or Former Pousada da Senhora das Neves)
The Hotel Fortaleza de Almeida was designed by architect Cristiano Moreira in the 1970s but has already had other functions. Located at one of the ends of the Praça-Forte de Almeida, it started out as a group of artillery, cavalry, and infantry barracks called the Santa Bárbara Barracks (like the Bulwark in front)!
At the same time, an “ammunition bread” factory (military provisions) was based in this area, as well as the Presidio of the Praça-Forte de Almeida. The current hotel building became an inn (the Pousada da Senhora das Neves) and its architecture clearly stands out from the rest.
High Square & Blood Hospital
The High Square is located in the Santa Barbara Bulwark, which is the highest point of the entire fortress of Almeida. From here, you have privileged views over the historical town – inside and outside the walls – and over the Doble Ravelin.
This ravelin was built in the 18th century and has a double structure, which gives it its name. In Vauban style (a type of fortification created by Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, a pioneer of military architecture during the reign of Louis XIV) it also served as a Blood Hospital, from 1658.
In the High Square of Almeida, you’ll also find a tombstone that marks the place where John Beresford was buried. This English officer commanded the Portuguese army during the French Invasions, eventually dying in Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain.
Picadeiro d’El Rey (Riding School)
The Picadeiro d’El Rey is the only structure in the Bulwark of Our Lady of Brotas (or Bulwark of the Artillery Train) and was only restored at the end of the 20th century, after several decades in ruins – a consequence of the 19th-century bombing of Almeida.
These days, it’s entirely dedicated to the practice of equestrian activities and houses about one to two dozen horses – I even had the opportunity to photograph some! Before the destruction, it would have served as a place for the production and repair of war equipment.
CEAMA – Almeida Center for Military Architecture Studies
In the Ravelin of Saint Anthony, there are two entrances similar to the Double Gates of Saint Francis: the Double Gates of Saint Anthony. And the CEAMA is headquartered in the Guard Houses of the Exterior Gate.
The Almeida Center for Military Architecture Studies was inaugurated in 2008 and consists of two exhibition spaces – one on each side of the tunnel – that tell the story of this fortress.
In this interpretive center, it’s also possible to learn more about the criteria that led to the choice of certain architectural elements and the importance they showed in defending the historical village of Almeida.
The CEAMA is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 9 am to 12:30 pm, and from 2 pm to 5:30 pm.
Ruins of the Castle of Almeida
The Castle of Almeida may have been built by King Dinis at the end of the 13th century/beginning of the 14th century, but it was King Manuel I who ordered its reform in the 16th century. For this, he called the military architect Francisco Danzilho, who also rebuilt the Keep of the Castle of Castelo Rodrigo.
Nonetheless, a strong storm in August 1695 left the Castle of Almeida in ruins. Later, it was converted into a large ammunition and gunpowder warehouse, similar to the Ammunition Depot that existed in Ravelin with the same name. Unfortunately, the new Ammunition Depot exploded during the Siege of Almeida and destroyed the surroundings.
The Clock Tower was constructed in the first half of the 19th century, more precisely in 1830. You can find it in the old cemetery of the historical town, which in turn is located in the archaeological area of the Castle of Almeida.
In this place, there was a first Mother Church, which had the same name as the current one – Church of Our Lady of Light – and which collapsed in 1810.
It’s not known for sure, but it’s likely that the Clock Tower was erected taking advantage of the foundations of its own tower.
With a square plan and architectural elements that emphasize symmetry, the Clock Tower of Almeida is inspired by the religious buildings in Portugal, of the neoclassical and baroque periods.
Town Hall (or Former Main Corps of Guard)
The works of the former Main Guard Corps began in 1791, based on a project by the architect Anastácio de Sousa e Miranda. Its architecture is markedly neoclassical, as evidenced by the imposing entrance portico with three arches.
This monument is, together with the Infantry Barracks (just over 200 meters away), one of the best examples of 18th-century military architecture in this historical village. Today, it serves as the Town Hall‘s premises and is facing the building of the Palace of Justice and Civil Registry of Almeida.
Palace of Justice and Civil Registry (or Former Beira General Inspectorate & Governors’ House)
The current Palace of Justice and Civil Registry started as the Beira General Inspectorate, a military institution that dealt with the management of the War Squares in the region. Its construction began at the end of the 17th century and continued until the early 18th century, based on a project by Colonel Engineer António Velho de Azevedo.
Interestingly, its architect was also the author of the former Military Hospital that was located next to this Palace of Justice. In the second half of the 18th century, Sergeant-Major Engineer Miguel Luís Jacob adapted the functionality of the building to serve as the Governors’ House of the Praça-Forte de Almeida.
Former Town Hall
This one-day itinerary in the historical village (or rather, town) of Almeida ends in the former Town Hall, which now serves as facilities for the Technical Services of Works, Urbanism, and Urban Services of the Municipality of Almeida.
Dating back to the 16th century, but subject to modifications until the 18th century, this historic building is rectangular and has two surprising architectural elements on its façade: a monumental portico with five arches and a coat of arms in the center!
Map of the Almeida Itinerary
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