When we think of ghost towns, we think of the “Old West” in the United States, but Portugal has its share of unique places that have been abandoned over the centuries. Here is a quick guide to the most interesting ghost towns in Portugal:
+++The Lost Valley of Arouce is about 2 hours north of Lisbon in the Beiras/Centro de Portugal Region. Here you will find the ruins of a castle that once defended the tiny village of Arouce. The village is now overgrown with trees, its houses gone or mere remnants. The castle is now just a small keep(?), and a circular wall of brown, slate tiles. It sits on a hill, surrounded by mountains. According to legend, the castle was built by “King Arouce”- who fled into this hidden valley with his daughter when barbarians overran the city of Conimbriga in the 4th century. Portugal later emerged as its own nation in the 12th century, and the town and castle of Arouce lost their importance. The valley fell silent and Arouce was gone by 1513, veiled in mystery and myth. Arouce is outside the quaint town of Lousã and is just one of many tiny villages abandoned now, but once dotting the Serra da Lousã landscape.
+++Faial Island is part of the Azores archipelago, in the North Atlantic Ocean. In the center of Faial is a perfectly shaped volcano, Mount Gordo. In 1957-58, the volcano erupted slowly, burying the town in rock and ash and causing residents of Capelo to flee. When it was done, an additional 1 mile of land mass had been added to the island. Today the site is a regional park, Capelinhos (meaning Little Capelo), with a landscape that looks like Mars, only with a view of the sea and a charred lighthouse. The Azorean Regional government is building a visitor center on the site to tell the story of the volcano and to preserve the lighthouse.
+++The lost town of Ourém has a sad history marked by ancient wars. Built in the 13th century inside the walls of the Castle of Ourém, this town sits on a high hill. In the 1380s, Queen Leonora persuaded her husband, King Ferdinand, to give the castle to her French lover, Andeiro, along with the title of Count of Ourém. When Fernando died without heir, the nation turned on the unpopular queen. Rebel knights murdered Andeiro and burned the castle and town. In 1807, French forces sacked and pillaged the town, and it fell into total ruin. Today, a few of Ourém’s houses have been restored as lodgings for visitors, and they say the charred castle is still haunted by the murdered Frenchman Andeiro.
+++Further to the north is the town of Marialva. Its recorded history appears in Latin in a.d. 179, in the time of Emperor Adriano, but its founding was almost certainly long before this date. Located on a granite hill, its granite houses were clustered around a main square. Not much remained of its fortifications when, in 1286, King Dinis I gave the town a new charter. In 1515, King Manuel gave orders to rebuild the town’s walls, which were completed by 1559. Wars, poor soils, and isolation, however, eventually led to the abandonment of Marialva. Today, the ghost town of ruined houses, walls, and churches seems frozen in a medieval past, and serves as an open museum for visitors to hike and explore.
Come, discover for yourself!