The Romans gave the name of "Juliobriga" to the original fortified village. Bragança grew in importance due to its location and rich agriculture so this fortification was improved upon especially in the time of King Dom Afonso I who constructed a proper walled citadel for his brother-in-law Fernão Mendes.
Completed around 1130 the place was then renamed "Brigantia". King Afonso IX of León occupied the town and soon King Sancho I retook possession and built the castle that still remains. This town also gave its name to the last in the royal Portuguese lineage, the House of Bragança, that descended from the an illegitimate son of Dom João I who was created a Duke in 1442.
The tower of the castle was to become a place of imprisonment or refuge for many historic personages including Dona Sancho, the unfortunate wife of its constructor.
The town played its strategic part in many battles between the two Kingdoms of Portugal and Spain. It was also the location in which General Sepúlveda in 1808 called upon the local inhabitants to resist against the invasion of the French forces.
The citadel has been well preserved throughout the centuries and within its walls are various historic items of interest.
The 12th Century “Domus Municipalis” which until the 16th Century was used as a reservoir for water and then converted into a building that was used as a civic court for disputes between tradesmen and landowners.
The manner in which the arguments were settled is left to the imagination. Nearby is the Church of Santa Maria that was extensively reconstructed in the 18th Century from the original building dating back to 1580. The first church was named Nossa Senhora do Sardão (Our Lady of the Green Lizard!), the creature said to protect the inhabitants from the Moors.
Close to the walls of the castle in the adjoining garden is a medieval pillory in the unusual shape of a pig being skewered which dates back to Celtic period.
Outside the walls in the Rua dos Fornos is the Jewish quarter that was formed by Jews fleeing from Spain and North Africa in the 15th Century. They were responsible for starting the local silk industry.
In the Museu do Abade de Baçal is a variety of items including some medieval torture instruments and in the gardens outside some archaeological finds are on display including tablets with Luso-Roman inscriptions.
The Church of São Vicente is reputed to be the location in which the secret wedding of King Dom Pedro and Inês de Castro took place. Originally a 13th Century structure it was rebuilt in the 17th Century with several rich adornments. The Church of São Bento dates back to the 16th Century with some 18th Century additions.
Of outstanding natural beauty is the national park of Montesinho that lies to the north of Bragança. This reserve covers some 70.000 hectares of wild terrain basically unspoilt by modern humanity.
Locally termed Terra Fria (Cold Land), the Park rises to a mountain range touching 1.481 metres. Vegetation is sparse on the upper slopes that then descend into valleys of oak, willow and alder trees.
Wildlife in the shape of golden eagles, falcons, wolves, otters and wild boar still enjoy their freedom. The quaint typical village of Vinhais lying to the west of Bragança is an ideal location to obtain the spectacular panoramic views of this Park. Horses and mountain bikes can be hired locally.
The “Dovecotes” of the area with their horseshoe shaped roofs are a realistic reminder of medieval times. They are specially built dove houses that as well as being a form of food also provide fertilizer droppings for growing crops.
Between Bragança and Vinhais is the Mosteiro de Castro de Avelãs dating from the 12th Century but now virtually in ruins. This monastery held the main religious power in the region during its heyday.
To the east of Bragança is the small town of Babe. It was here in 1387 that the Portuguese King João I made the "Treaty of Babe" with John of Gaunt of England who agreed to relinquish any desires for claim on the throne of Portugal upon the marriage of his daughter Phillipa to João I.
To the south east of Bragança is the historic town of Miranda do Douro that sits above the gorge of the Rio Douro on the border of Spain. Due to its strategic position it suffered an uneasy history including an explosion of its gunpowder store in 1762.
This event virtually destroyed the castle and much of the town and many of its inhabitants. Unfortunately, at the time the town was surrounded by a French army of some 30,000 who quickly took advantage of the situation. From this date onwards its importance as a point of defence against invading armies was discarded.
On the road southwest and halfway between Bragança and Vila Real is the town of Mirandela. In 1433 the town grew in importance when it was given by King Manuel to his trusted aide Álvares Pires de Távora.
However, the Távora family was later to fell foul of the Marquês de Pombal and the royal family who ordered the complete Tavora family to be executed in 1758 for plotting treason against the then King José I.
Directly to the south of Bragança in this region known as Trás-os-Montes, there is the quaint typical village of Chacim whose history is linked to a legend dating from the 9th Century that is still celebrated today.
The villagers rose up in revolt against the ancient practiced right of "jus primae noctis" (the local nobleman taking the bride on her wedding night).
Assisted by a mysterious woman the villagers successfully slaughtered the offending lord and his servants. Nearby is the Spa Caldas de Albelheira. Further to the south is Vila Flor, a small town with an attractive atmosphere with ruins of its 13th Century castle and close to another Spa, Aquas Bem Saúde.
Southwards is Torre de Moncorvo that has the largest 16th Century Church in the whole province and near this town is the Vale do Côa that boasts the world’s largest known collection of open-air Stone Age drawings that are estimated to be about 20.000 years old.
These drawings feature bulls, horses, fish and a naked man and the area can be visited with the assistance of a guide.
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