In the middle of the historic walled city, surrounded by parks and a 15th century palace stands the castle that witnessed the birth of the nation. The castle of Guimarães is simple, yet a formidable site, and a place with a story. It was here that D. Afonso Henriques was born in the 12th century to the Count Henrique and his wife D. Teresa. The future king was baptized in the Romanesque chapel of São Miguel outside the castle gate. The country of Port Cale extended from the banks of the Minho River to the water of the Douro. It belonged to the kingdom of Castile and Leon, and had just been wrestled from the Moors, and was given to the Frenchman Henrique of Burgundy as its first count. Henrique dreamed of establishing his own kingdom, but his death in 1114 would pit his widow against his son some 14 years later when young Afonso Henriques discovered that his mother was cheating him out his inheritance. In June of 1128 Afonso Henriques and a group of his friends defeated D. Teresa’s army at São Mamede. He imprisoned his mother in the castle of Guimarães, but soon found himself under siege by the king of Castile and Leon, who did not want to lose Portugal. A treaty was worked out and Afonso Henriques, now count of Portugal, began a relentless campaign from Guimarães to push the Moors south.
At the mythical battle of Ourique in 1139 Afonso Henriques dreamed that God offers him the crown, and then defeated a vast army of five Moorish kings. His men proclaimed him D. Afonso I, the new King of Portugal, and although it meant breaking his promise to the Castilians, he accepted. After all, who can argue with God’s will? Today, the ruined palace of the first king, with its simple granite rooms, is all that fills the restored walls of Guimarães. But, the pointed castellated walls and parapet, high keep and guard towers remain, a reminder to today’s Portuguese of the courage of their first king.