Idanha-a-Velha is a tiny town in the east of Portugal, in the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova with a population of 100 today. It may also be the most fascinating place in Europe that has never been written about. This modest hamlet among the olive groves encapsulates the history of Portugal. Discreet signposts and explanations in Portuguese, French and English guide visitors through the landmarks of this living museum. Idanha-a-Velha was founded as a Roman garrison town called Egitanea in the first century and had more than 200,000 inhabitants at one time.
The town was so important that it became a diocesan seat in 599 AD, with its own bishop until 1199. Idanha even had a center to coin gold. The Cathedral, the Baptistery and the Bishops' Palace all date from this period of development. The fall of the empire lead to a period of instability, during which the Visigoth King Wamba was born in its walls, legend has it.
Portugal was founded in the 12th century, Idanha already belonged to the Portucale Earldom and, later, the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques, gave it to the Templars. Its first charter dates from 1229. King Dinis included the town among the properties given to the Order of Christ in 1319, and he tried to repopulate. Yet, the once prosperous Egitanea was doomed never to regain its former glory.
Today Idanha-a-Velha (Idanha-the-Old) is a national monument with archaeological significance because of its landmarks and ruins.
How to get there?
2 and ½ hours from Lisbon by car. 270 KM. Take the A1 north to the A23 to Castelo Branco, and then local roads to Idanha.