The town lying at the mouth of the Rio Lima has a always had a history linked with the sea. It is recorded that its original name of "Calpe" was given to the town by Diomedes in 1156 BC King Henriques Alfonso granted its Charter in 1253 in the name of Viana.
In the 15th Century a wave of Jews escaping persecution from the Spanish made their homes here. It may have been because of this that the many pirates roaming the coast often picked Viana to raid. In 1640 Dom António, the Prior of Crato, with a combined army from surrounding towns defeated the Spanish occupiers. In 1848 the name of the town was changed to Viana do Castelo.
In the 15th Century it gained importance as the one of the main ports from which Portuguese explorers set sail. From here embarked João Velho who was to chart the Congo, and João Álvares Fagundes who charted the rich fishing grounds off Newfoundland.
An enterprising English community settled here prior to 1580 for the export of local wine. The Spanish invasion of that year drove them further south and it took until 1700 before they had re-established their original flourishing business. However, these traders had to move back to Porto due to the important growth in the Port wine trade.
The City is still kept reasonably busy with its fishing industry and the new phenomena of tourism. A main feature of the City is the attractive main square that features both a 1553 water fountain and the Miseriacórdia house that was constructed in 1598.
Close by is its 15th Century Cathedral that has a fortress-like feeling and graced with Gothic carved relief's of the apostles. In the square of São Domingos is the 16th Century church of the same name.
The City Museum housed in a small Palace of Barbosa Maciel is also in the main square. It holds a variety of interesting fine items such as rare ceramics, furniture, paintings and archaeological finds from the area.
In the northwest part of the City the 18th Century Chapel Nossa Senhora da Agonia plays an important part in its annual celebrations. A three-day festival drawing thousands of visitors is held in August each year to honour this image.
Located on the high hill of Monte Santa Luzia is the modern unattractive basilica that dominates over the City.
From this point there are magnificent views of the surroundings whilst slightly hidden in a wood close by is the remains of a Celtic-Iberian settlement that has been reconstructed with many small huts and paved streets.
The town of Viana do Castelo is famous for its decorative filigree jewellery which reflects back to the time of Moor occupation.
More recently in the 20th Century the City made a successful income from their cod fishing fleet but with the decline in availability of this fish has resulted in a similar decline in the industry.
A ferry or the bridge takes visitors across the river to the beautiful sweeping sandy beach of Praia Cabedelo that stretches as far south as the popular holiday resort of Esposende.
To the north is another holiday resort by the name of Vila Praia de Âncora with its 17th Century Fort. On this coastal road just to the north of Viana do Castelo is Areosa with a 16th Century chapel and a 17th Century fort.
An interesting 13th Century chapel can also be found to the northeast of this town at a small hamlet named São Pedro de Varais.
From this point running along the Spanish boarder are several towns worth visiting; Caminha, Vila Nova de Cerveira, Valença and the Spa towns of Monção and Melgaço.
The town of Caminha came to prominence when in 1640 the Forte de Ínsua was constructed to protect against the raiding pirates. This Fort was later to act as a hindrance to the invasion by the French army in 1809.
The town of Valença which was first fortified in the reign of Sancho I is interesting to the tourist in that it has a selection of interesting buildings, a railway museum and its 17th Century two joined Forts.
Legends and fables abound in the area and some of which are attached to the turbulent history of Monção.
In 1368 a Spanish army had besieged the town for some time driving the occupants to near starvation. The wife of the absent leader of the town used the town's last flour to bake bread and threw it over the walls to the besiegers with suitable taunts.
Believing their siege had failed the Spanish army retreated and this act is permanently recorded in the town's coat-of-arms.
Just south of Monção is Brejoeira is the renown 18th Century Palace of Brejoeira. The strategic town of Melgaço has enjoyed a bitter history of wars but still has maintained character from its medieval past. The tower with its ruined fortification overlooking the town dates back to 1197.
To the south of Melgaço is the Spa named Termas do Peso. Also to the south is the small hamlet of Fiães at 700 metres and with a Cistercian Monastery from the 12th Century.
Even further to the south of this hamlet is Castro Laboreiro with a church dating back to the 9th Century. Just to the south of this town at 1.033 metres is a castle from before the 11th Century.
Further to the northeast after passing through Ponte de Barca is the small town of Lindoso. This is an unpretentious small Spa town that acts as the centre of the Gerêz Nature Reserve of 72.000 hectares in which it sits.
To the northeast of this town is a small village of Soajo which feels as it has stepped out of the medieval world.
To the east of Viana do Castelo is Giela with a 14th Century tower as part of a 15th Century small palace.
Some distance inland to the east of Viana do Castelo following the river Lima upstream is the town of Ponte de Lima, and then later the town of Ponte de Barca.
The first of these towns has a 14th Century restored chapel named Anjo da Guarda and the town church Igreja da Misericórdia and is the oldest official recorded town in Portugal.
Close by is the small town of Bravães with a church that is considered as a prime example of Portuguese romanticism. Both towns are attractive with many historic and architecturally interesting buildings as testaments to their past. The latter town boasts a legend connected to its Roman bridge that has since undergone many alterations.
The Rio Lima was about 2000 years ago a gentle flowing stream known as Rio Leathe (the river of forgetfulness). Having at the time no bridge, a Legion of Roman soldiers mutinied rather than wade across the stream.
The soldiers superstitiously believed that they would forget their families and loved ones in back in Italy by wading across. Needless to say a Centurion led the way and the soldiers followed him across. However, the matter was not forgotten and a bridge was subsequently built.
Just to the north of Ponte de Barca is the town of Arcos de Valdevez that was a pivot point in the founding of the independence of Portugal. Alfonso II de Leon fought his cousin Afonso Henrigues in a chivalrous tournament in its plains, and by Alfonso II losing the Portuguese nation was virtually born.
Even further to the east is Soajo and Lindoso. Both towns present past images of the rugged nature of its existence with granite houses and its granite community granaries, and the later with its medieval castle.
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