Idanha-a-Velha is one of the main archaeological stations of the Iberian Peninsula and has been part of the “12 Historical Villages of Portugal” since 1991 (a program created by the Portuguese government to restore and enhance a series of villages in the Beira Interior region, older than the country itself).
Of Roman foundation, Idanha-a-Velha was occupied by Suevi, Visigoths, and Muslims, before becoming part of the Kingdom of Portugal with King Sancho I. Currently, it’s one of the smallest villages on the Route of Historical Villages and the perfect place to spend the day exploring the traces left by all these people!
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- Brief History of Idanha-a-Velha
- Visiting Idanha-a-Velha
- Idanha-a-Velha Itinerary
- Map of the Idanha-a-Velha Itinerary
- More Posts about Portugal
- More Posts about Archaeological Sites
- More Posts about Travel Itineraries
- What Photography Gear Do I Use?
Brief History of Idanha-a-Velha
The historical village of Idanha-a-Velha was founded by the Romans at the end of the 1st century BC, under the name of Civitas Igaeditanorum (ie, City of the Igeditanos). In the 5th century, the city was conquered by the Suevi and then by the Visigoths, who made it their episcopal seat and called it Egitania.
At the beginning of the 8th century, Muslims invaded the place, changed its name to Idânia, and managed to stay here until the Christian Reconquista in the 12th century. After passing definitively into the possession of Portugal, Idanha-a-Velha was donated to the Order of Christ in 1319, by King Dinis.
In addition to being a small village, Idanha-a-Velha has another point in its favor for those visiting it with little time: it’s relatively close to the historical village of Monsanto, about 15 km away. In other words, if you plan your itinerary well, you may be able to visit these two historical villages on the same day!
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
During the Roman Empire, Civitas Igaeditanorum gained a wall measuring almost 750 meters in perimeter, with seven defensive towers. However, some housing and community spaces – such as the city’s baths – had to remain outside the walls, due to lack of space.
Later, this military construction was used by Muslims and Templars. The North Gate of the walls of Idanha-a-Velha was of particular importance, as it was here that the Roman road that connected Braga (at that time, Bracara Augusta) to Mérida (or Augusta Emerita, in Spain) passed!
Santa Maria Church (or Cathedral)
The Santa Maria Church (also known as the Idanha-a-Velha Cathedral) is one of the oldest Christian temples in Portugal.
Built by the Visigoths when the bishopric of Egitânia was created, it was converted into a mosque with the Muslim invasion in the 8th century.
After the Christian Reconquista, the Cathedral was in ruins, having been recovered by the Templars, who dedicated it to the Virgin Mary.
The church that we see these days has undergone several renovations and restoration works over time. One of the most important took place during the reign of King Manuel I.
Olive Oil Press
This 19th-century Olive Oil Press is the most important testimony of the Industrial Revolution in Idanha-a-Velha. Olive oil has always been one of the most exploited (and appreciated) agricultural products in this region and the construction of a press managed by the Marrocos family allowed its mass production.
The Olive Oil Press was divided into three rooms with different functions: Grinding Room, Press Room, and Bagaceira Room. There were also two haystacks, which served as a shelter for both the mill workers and the animals. After extensive rehabilitation, the space reopened in 2008 as a Museum Complex and Idanha-a-Velha Tourist Office.
After having received the land of Idanha-a-Velha from King Dinis, the Templars built a castle – of which only the base of the Keep survived.
However, in the second half of the 20th century, archaeologists discovered that the Castle had been built on the ruins of the Roman Forum of Civitas Igaeditanorum and that the Tower itself was on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Jupiter!
This Keep dates from the mid-13th century, as can be seen from an inscription on the door. This entrance was the only access point to the structure and was located on the second floor, as was common in medieval castles.
The Pillory of Idanha-a-Velha was erected around 1510 when the then city received “Carta de Foral” from King Manuel I.
As for the capital, it has a very simple shape and was decorated with the best-known symbols from the Manueline period: the armillary sphere, the royal arms, and the cross of the Order of Christ.
Before being the Parish Church of Idanha-a-Velha, this Catholic temple was called Misericórdia Chapel.
However, with the progressive degradation of Santa Maria Church and its subsequent conversion into a cemetery, it was transformed into the main Church of the village in the 19th century.
It’s not clear when the building was constructed, but it must have been between the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century – although the bell tower is more recent.
Its interior consists of a single nave, which leads devotees to the chancel. The baptismal font was accommodated at the bottom of the bell tower.
Big House (or Marrocos Family Manor)
After all, who was the Marrocos family? The Marrocos were a very wealthy and influential family in the region, especially in Idanha-a-Velha. In the 19th and 20th centuries, this historical village lived mainly on agriculture and livestock, and the Marrocos family owned several agricultural lands and cultivated fields in this area.
The Marrocos Family Manor (popularly called Marrocos House or simply Big House) was built by António Marrocos in the mid-twentieth century and was the largest private property in Idanha-a-Velha. However, this “country palace” was never finished and quickly fell into disrepair.
Espírito Santo Chapel
The Espírito Santo Chapel (or Chapel of the Holy Spirit) is located outside the old walls of Idanha-a-Velha, in a square with the same name.
Despite having medieval origins, the temple that exists today dates from the 16th and 17th centuries.
And like the Parish Church of this historical village, it has a single nave and chancel.
The Largo do Espírito Santo (ie, Square of the Holy Spirit) is also a place to celebrate local festivities, namely the Feast of Our Lady of Conception (the patron saint of the parish), which takes place every year in May.
São Sebastião Chapel
Finally, here’s the São Sebastião Chapel (or Chapel of Saint Sebastian), another Catholic temple outside the walled precincts of the ancient medieval city of Egitânia!
This chapel dates from the 17th century and, curiously, was converted into a private museum in the 1920s, which was called the Lapidary Igeditano Museum.
Later, its estate was donated to the Portuguese State, which transferred it to Santa Maria Church. Currently, this collection is on display at the Epigraphic Archive of Idanha-a-Velha, a building next to the Tourist Office.
The small temple remains privately owned and it’s now known that there was another chapel opposite this one, on the other side of the road: the São Brás Chapel (or Chapel of Saint Blaise)!
Map of the Idanha-a-Velha Itinerary
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