Our second stop in Portugal was the the city of Braga. It’s founding dates back to the 1st Century by the Romans. It’s also the place where Antonio de Oliveira Salazar essentially launched his coup in 1926 that ushered in a half century of fascism. It’s a heavy place, and yet the people are friendly and generous.
There is more to do here than our few days’ visit allowed, but what we saw was stunning. As is true in most of Europe, most of the money, expertise, and artistry in an early city like this was invested in the churches, so that’s where the wow factor is going to be.
Braga’s cathedral is one of the oldest in Iberia, and it’s the seat of the Archdiocese, which makes it extra special. The Sé (the Portuguese word for Cathedral) is quite small in comparison to others we’ve been to, and the main attraction isn’t the altar – it’s the High Choir.
There is a small cost to get into the Cathedral, and even more “separate tickets” to buy to get into the museum and into the Choir itself.
The very friendly staff will walk you through all of the different tickets you can buy. We had to go back twice, but eventually we got access to everything we wanted to see – and a few things we weren’t expecting, like the corpse of a bishop.
Bom Jesus do Monte
A short bus ride outside of town took us to the pilgrimage site of the Bom Jesus do Monte (Good Jesus of the Mount). This is a massive undertaking for a pilgrim. More than 500 steps to be taken – on one’s knees if you’re truly devout – to the church on the hill.
Along the way are gazebo-sized chapels that depict scenes – in life size diorama form – from the bible.
The full ascent is spectacular. If you can’t abide all the steps there’s a funicular that can take you to the top. But if you can manage it, I highly recommend walking it (we used our feet, not our knees).
It’s something of a destination not just for pilgrims. We saw a number of joggers and even a mountain biker:
Once inside the church there is more splendor to behold. This one isn’t as ornate as some of the others we’ve seen in the country, but it is wonderful in it’s own way.
Other than churches…
But that’s not all that’s here. For an adept azulejos hunter there are a number of buildings here with immaculately well-maintained painted tiles.
Also, given the Roman roots of the city there are surprising ruins to be found. Not nearly as jaw dropping as you’ll see in other countries like Italy or Turkey, but they are still great.
Where we stayed
For the larger cities we have found that booking a room through AirBnB is a better value than a hotel. The space may be cramped, but the beds are a lot more comfortable in someone’s home than they are in a hotel. Our hostess, Maria, was a warm and generous woman with two grown sons and one grandson (“my diamonds”). Her dream is to travel to California to see Mt. Shasta. Having been there myself a number of times, I can’t blame her. It’s beautiful.
We told her a little about where we wanted to travel – Morocco, Jordan, Oman – and she beamed at all of them, said they were beautiful. I said we weren’t sure how safe it would be for Americans, what with our leaders not always getting along with their leaders.
She rolled her eyes in disgust, and then, batting the word away with both hands she said, “Leaders.”