Bragança lies at the edge of the Parque Natural de Montesinho (Montesinho Natural Park), one of the wildest regions on the Continent. A walled citadel, or castle, on a hilltop crowns the town of Bragança. The Upper Town grew up around this brooding old castle. In a small public garden within the citadel stands a Gothic pillory. A medieval shaft has been driven through the stone effigy of a boar, which has a depression carved in its snout. The boar is believed to date from the Iron Age, and it's possible that it was used in ancient pagan rituals.
A Cidadela (sometimes called O Castelo) dates from the 12th century. Dom João I reconstructed it in the 14th century. The heyday of this castle came under the fiefdom of the dukes of Bragança, the ruling family of Portugal from 1640 until the monarchy collapsed in 1910. The Upper Town was also a major silk center in the 1400s -- in part because of a prosperous Jewish merchant community. The Inquisition dispersed most of the merchants. The citadel's tall, square keep, Torre de Menagem, today contains the Museu Militar (tel. 27/332-23-78), with displays that range from medieval suits of armor to a World War I machine gun used in trench warfare. Other exhibits display collections of African art, some from Angola, gathered by Portuguese soldiers. The museum is open daily 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm. Admission is 2€ for adults and free for children under 10.
Beside the castle, you can look at the Torre da Princesa (Princess Tower). Here the fourth duke of Bragança imprisoned his wife, Dona Leonor. She was said to be so beautiful that he didn't want other men to look at her. However, when he moved his court to Lisbon, he murdered her.
Also part of the castle complex in the Upper Town, the Domus Municipalis (Town Hall) -- built over a cistern -- dates from the 12th century. It is one of the few remaining Romanesque civic buildings in the country. The interior is a cavernous room lit by little round arches. It's open daily 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm. Admission is free.
A final building of note is the 16th-century Igreja da Santa Maria (St. Mary's Church; no phone). The interior is distinguished by a barrel-vaulted painted ceiling from the 18th century. The painting depicts the Assumption of the Virgin in many colors. Solomonic (twisted) columns frame the front door. Hours are daily 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm.
The citadel and Upper Town are the reasons to go to Bragança. If time remains, you can also explore the Lower Town, with its major boulevard and (in the summer) sidewalk cafes.
Museu Abade de Baçal, Rua Abílio Beça 27 (tel. 27/333-15-95; www.ipmuseus.pt), occupies a former bishop's palace. A local priest, Francisco Manuel Alves (1865-1947), created this bizarre assemblage. He collected everything from Iron Age depictions of pigs to ancient tombstones. He also collected antiques, ceramics, folkloric costumes, old coins, regional paintings, silver, archaeological artifacts -- virtually anything that caught his eye, including church plates and vestments. The museum is open Tuesday to Friday 10am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am to 6pm. Admission is 2€.
After exploring Bragança, visit the Parque Natural de Montesinho. (You can pick up a map at the tourist office.) This forbidding but beautiful land of towering mountains and high plateaus stretches northwest and northeast of Bragança. Here you'll discover some of the most rugged -- certainly the wildest -- land in the country. It is still home to wolves, wild boars, and foxes, among other animals. In the little villages you'll see as you drive through the vast land, life is lived nearly the way it was a century ago, although modern intrusions have occurred.
At least until the outbreak of World War II, many pre-Christian rituals were still practiced here. The area stretches over 467 sq. km (182 sq. miles). In all, fewer than 9,000 people live in fewer than 100 villages. This is one of the best places in Portugal for trekking along well-worn mountain paths, most of which date from the fall of the Visigothic empire. Sometimes you can spot an endangered bird such as the black stork. Because trails are unmarked, the tourist office provides brochures, useful maps, and advice.
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