The border between Spain and Portugal has a particular quirk. It does not matter which place you visit; they all share some characteristics that make them truly unique. They all have a dominant castle, are near a river, and share many, many picturesque legends. In this story, we are going to talk about Pinhel, the falcon city. It is located at Guarda district, only a few kilometers away from Almeida and very close to the Côa river, of which I have been talking a lot lately -this area is vibrant!
Why is it called the falcon city? Well, being so close to Spain, they were always in first-line whenever a battle or a war was declared -and there have been many, many of them. They traditionally dislike the Spaniards so much that there is a gargoyle in the main tower, facing Spain… in the shape of a butt! So they were overjoyed when, in 1385, they captured the beloved hawk of the Castilian King as he was trying to siege their village.
That year has been really bad for the Spanish army: they had just lost the infamous battle of Aljubarrota, where thousands of them were defeated by hundreds of Lusitanians. After this, a new king sat in the Portuguese throne and, grateful for the Pinhel’s help, put a falcon on their coat of arms.
Or so says the legend. In reality, the falcon and the pine tree (Pinhel’s name comes from it) on the coat of arms are supposed to symbolize a restless watch, and that was the role of Pinhel: guard the Spaniards!
With the city being a key fortress, a true citadel was set up at the top of the hill. A huge city wall was erected, with six gates and its six square towers. Nowadays, two towers and five gates have survived. Of the two towers, one ended up being used more for prison purposes (and now it is a coffee place), but the other is a beauty. It was rebuilt in the Manueline -the Portuguese renaissance- style: the access door allowed entering directly to the first floor, which was a very smart move when under siege! Of course, it would not be considered an important castle unless it had a church nearby, so Saint Mary (of the Castle) was built right there.
There are two more churches worth a visit: Church of Mercy, with some Manueline details, and another one that also served as a Monastery, Saint Louis. A clock tower, with a rooster on its top, completes the painting.
Last but not least, you cannot miss Casa Grande (Big House). It was built on the XVIIIth century, in such a fashion that a story about it was born. Locals assure it has 365 doors and windows, like the days of a year. According to the legend, it would have been built very quickly with the help of little demons. Now, in magic, there is a demon, rooster-headed. The letters of his name sum up to 365. The magic of numbers was very important in that century in Portugal, with the masons rebuilding all Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. Did the 365 mean anything to the original owner? Who knows!
The answer is easy: eat! The local “enchidos” (sausages) are a must: do not forget to ask for local wine (the nearby Côa valley produces a really good one). Afterward, you can go for a hike next to the Côa river, visit the millenary paintings, explore more fortresses, or even cross to Spain and get to experience the full picture. Pinhel, the falcon city is definitely worth adding to your bucket list! Ready for this trip?
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