The city of Abrantes
The city of Abrantes in Central Portugal along the Tejo line is one of our favourite cities thanks to its position, surrounding landscapes, architecture, and history. It’s a city seldom visited by tourists yet it’s a very beautiful, historical place that deserves much more attention.
The city is spread over a group of parishes that make up the municipality of Abrantes and it has roughly 42000 inhabitants.
The city goes back to the periods of the Celts of around 300bc and remains of the Roman civilization including mosaics and coins have been found in Abrantes and its surrounding towns and landscapes.
The castle and town of Abrantes were reconquered from the Moors in 1148 and after 1172 Abrantes became a military outpost.
Abrantes was given to Queen Elizabeth of Arragon at the end of the 13th century and Afonso IV of Portugal transferred the title of the religious parish to the Knights Hospitaller, in 1327.
Abrantes was one of the largest settlements in late medieval Portugal
King Manuel spent a long time in Abrantes and 2 of his children were born in the town. During this period early 16th century Abrantes was one of the largest and most populous lands in the kingdom of Portugal. It was home to almost 4000 inhabitants, housed 4 convents and 13 chapels or churches.
In the first half of the 17th century, Abrantes was the first in the kingdom to support John IV of Portugal in the Portuguese Restoration War between Portugal and Spain from 1640 to 1668.
In the second half of the 18th century, Abrantes became the center of the Portuguese silk industry in which time it prospered largely.
It was occupied by the french in 1807 for one year when it was used as a base for the French sources under de direction of Napoleon I
Panorama of Abrantes
An active republican center, Abrantes was the place of preparatory meetings for the 5 October 1910 Revolution, which may have contributed to the village’s elevation to the status of city on 14 June 1916.
The history of Abrantes in modern day society
Many aspects of its history is still evident in many of its buildings and street plans. So is the decay of the 20th century Slowly the most important building have been restored and some are still under restoration. Though many of the little medieval streets look almost original. Walking around I sometimes feel sad that not more is being done to restore its original beauty as many facades are decayed but then I realize that this has managed to help maintain its historical beauty. The city has been poorer than a lot of other main Portuguese cities but this has also managed to keep at bay the property developers that in the previous decades have destructed many of the old historical neighbourhoods and replaced them with the soulless ambitions of modern housing ‘needs’ before the laws protecting historical buildings came into place.
The castle gardens Castelo do Abrantes / Jardim do Castelo
Walking around Abrantes.
Getting around Abrantes
Being a medieval city trying to get through Abrantes by car would be shortcutting yourself most of the most interesting historical areas that are not accessible by car, plainly because they weren’t made for cars and are to narrow to be accessed by them. The little streets lead you through the city to the pedestrian squares.
Parking in some streets is difficult and in many parts of the historical center forbidden for non-residents. They are some well-accessible car parks in the center, close to the castle or to the courthouse, and if you really want to get the feel of this city park at the bottom of the hill on which it’s built or at the top by the castle. In these areas there is plenty of free parking space and the walking access to the city is not far.
Where to start
Starting at the castle is a good idea as it is a good reason for visiting both the castle (fortress) or Abrantes, here other than getting a real feel for medieval military practices, you’ll be taking in the fabulous views over the surrounding landscape with views towards Spain on clear weather days. Not much of the castle is a castle it’s rather a fortress, used for military reasons, the wall and some of the buildings are intact. The wall surrounds a large piece of grassland and the church of Santa Maria do Castelo, which was originally built in 1215 and rebuilt in 1433 after the original building was destroyed in an earthquake that took place in 1429. The church is lovely to see and has a continual exhibition of Roman sculpture and funerary artifacts dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries and temporary exhibitions covering various centuries of history in Europe.
Entrance is free to both the fortress and the church of Santa Maria do Castelo
The Jardim do Castelo
In front of the castle is a skate park for kids and right next to that is the entrance to the amazing castle gardens.
The castle gardens or Jardim do Castelo de Abrantes were founded in the last quarter of the 19th century and are one of the oldest gardens in the area. The gardens are made up of winding paths, ponds with ducks and swans, some unique flowers, and impressive old trees all framed by the castle and amazing views over the stretches of landscapes below. It’s a wonderfully tranquil place for walking and admiring flowers, insects, and the birds that live in the park.
Walking down into the city from the castle takes you through its medieval streets down to the many squares
Back view of the Igreja de São João Baptista, Abrantes
A typical alley view in Abrantes
A historical jewelry shop, Abrantes
Modern Abrantes concentrates mainly in the valleys around the old city and one very nice place to visit is the São Lourenço park which has been recovered and rehabilitated as a modern leisure park which also houses one of the most interesting restaurants of Abrantes, the restaurante São Lourenço.
The park has been built in such a way that the ancient wild pine trees have all remained, creating lovely shadow groups and shade all through the park. Walking bridges and paths built-in natural wood enhance their beauty and give a remained natural feel to the park.
At the front end of the park many leisure objects have been built some for sport others for pick-nick and relaxation. It holds a climbing wall, public barbecue and wash areas and parasol shaded seating for meals and socializing.
To the back emphasis has been put to walks through nature, plant and bird watching or walks with your dog! The entire park is free. The restaurant is a Cafe restaurant with buffet lunches and dinners that include vegetarian, meat and fish choices.