Spain or Portugal? Both or just one? American travelers ask this when planning a trip. Here’s our take:
Welcome to Lisbon!

Hail the legacy of Portugal's Founder

Few nations can claim to be founded by the courage and vision of just one person. Even ancient Rome had Romulus and Remus…but as to Europe's oldest nation-state, Portugal, it owes its existence to the stubbornness, perseverance and skill of one man:  Dom Afonso Henriques. 


We would love to share the entire story of this warrior-king with you, but that wouldn't leave us any room to talk about travel. Click through to this biography, and you'll get the big picture on this larger-than-life character. <  <> >

We can, however, take a look at three key travel spots in Portugal where this man's spirit still reigns:


This northern city is a living museum that calls itself the "cradle of Portugal." While D. Afonso Henriques was most likely born at Coimbra (see below) in 1109, he grew up in the granite castle here, and was probably baptized in the Romanesque chapel on its grounds. Here he rebelled against his mother when his father, the Count of Portucale, died and she tried to keep power from her son. Medieval Guimarães is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its narrow streets with stone pavement worn from years of use make it a very popular stop for visitors.  The city is the only one in Portugal with two pousadas. Now that says something! 


This city of learning was Dom Afonso Henriques' new capital, built facing south, towards the Moors who had held most of the Iberian Peninsula since 711. Here Afonso built a small army and then plunged south, defeating the Moors' superior forces. Here, too, the great warrior was born and died in 1185. In the Santa Cruz abbey, his face is rendered in stone on his gothic tomb. His long beard flows over his armor, his sword and helmet at his side, ready to defend his new land. His hands are raised in prayer while a lion sits at his feet. 

+Castro Verde

Legend says that in 1139, not far from Castro Verde on the field of Ourique, Afonso Henriques and his men faced the combined armies of five Moorish princes. Some say that Christ spoke to Afonso, telling him not to fear. He would win a great victory and his nation would grow to see the world.  Afonso did win the battle and he was declared king. Portugal was born. In Castro Verde today, the Royal Basilica honors this victorious day and the Battle of Ourique with a series of 17th Century hand-painted tiles. 

Yes, Afonso then captured Lisbon, fortified the Tejo River Valley and, within 80 years of his death, the last Moorish stronghold fell to the Portuguese. Portugal then became the first country in Europe to take on its modern borders. 

The history of Dom Afonso Henriques spans nine centuries.  No wonder he is celebrated in verse, such as the one below.


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