Barquinha

The municipality of Vila Nova da Barquinha is a bit more than an hour away from Lisbon (125 km). This region is bathed by the Tagus, the longest Portuguese river, one that starts in Spanish Extremadura and ends right next to Lisbon.

Tagus

This municipality’s origin has everything to do with this river. The story dates back to the era when the Tagus was a means of communication and trade between several different products, like salt (from the great Lisbon) and ice (north of Portugal). Rua do Sal (Salt Street) is still part of Barquinha nowadays, perpetuated due to product’s storage in this place, known as ‘white gold’ for its relevance.

It was collected as snow in the highlands just to be compactedly stored, to turn it into ice. When the summer began, large ice blocks were cut, which were then sent to Lisbon to refresh the city’s wealthiest.

And, in this way, Tagus’ history turned out to be the same as that of Vila Nova da Barquinha. It started to have great commercial and military importance but, over the years, it fell into decay, with riverine trade being replaced gradually by its land counterpart. The population created ports and started to focus on fishing.

As we speak, this is a Ribatejo region where we find quiet and friendly villages, instilled with a history that dates back to Portugal’s beginnings. My journey took a whole day and I visited two locations of the municipality itself and another in the outskirts. I was followed by Welcome-to/Tritejo, which made a huge difference. Filipe knows the region quite well and can provide much more than the (scarce) information available in these places.

Castle of Almourol

This is a mandatory place and alone justifies a visit to the region. It’s the castle of castles.

The Castle of Almourol is located on top of a steep island in the middle of Tagus, being one of the most emblematic Portuguese monuments. Its name traces back to its location, Al-morolan means large stone.

How to get there

To get there, you will have to go to Tancos or Barquinha and catch the boat. This is a short journey from both piers (from Tancos is even shorter), but this a perfect way to watch it from afar and notice the mysticism inherent to its location. The castle will begin to appear quite small in the background, but then it stands impressively, with an aura of mystery and romanticism. It’s unique in Portugal, also for this reason.

Almourol Castle, Barquinha, Santarém
Almourol Castle
Almourol Castle
Almourol Castle

History

Let’s start when Afonso I founded the Kingdom of Portugal, helped by the Knights Templar. To return the favor, the man who would later become the first king of Portugal, donated a large part of the Portuguese territory. Gualdim Pais, a Grand Master of the Templar Order, emerged in this context, whom Afonso designated as responsible for the defense of the region, bounded by the rivers Mondego and Tagus.

The Castle of Almourol was rebuilt (1171) with this military function and templar features, since this castle already existed when the place was conquered. The kingdom of Portugal was defended from the top of that structure, since the Tagus was an important border and means of communication. When you are there, do not miss the inscription on the castle’s main door, mentioning that Gualdim Pais was responsible for its edification, the inner wall (there is a castle within the castle), and the keep, one that you will certainly want to climb to have a fabulous view over Ribatejo’s “lezíria”.

The castle underwent several changes and restoration efforts over the centuries and, today, this is the Portuguese monument that better portrays the architectural and artistic features of the Knights Templar.

Almourol steadily lost its significance as a stronghold, nevertheless it still has its mystical aura. There are many legends that involve Moorish princesses and Christian knights.

Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park

Barquinha is a friendly village located next to the Tagus River. In the riverside area, there is a seven-hectare green park with something unique. It’s the first sculpture park with works from the most representative artists of Portuguese contemporary sculpture. It already won a National Prize for Landscape Architecture, confirming that Barquinha is an important tourist and cultural attraction in Portugal.

In my view, this green area’s greatest virtue is providing the chance to see contemporary sculptures without barriers, which is dynamic and creates a greater proximity, when compared with a closed location, like a museum. It’s very interesting to see that people touch and use the sculptures, perhaps the resistance to having culture in public spaces will end…

One of the works is from Joana Vasconcelos, albeit not the most interesting, in my opinion. My favorite is the granite and bronze forest of Alberto Carneiro. It’s a quite interesting biographical work.

Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park, Barquinha, Santarém
Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park
Fernanda Fragateiro statue, Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park, Barquinha, Santarém
Fernanda Fragateiro statue, Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park
Alberto Carneiro statue, Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park, Barquinha, Almourol
Alberto Carneiro statue, Almourol Contemporary Sculpture Park

The meaning of each sculpture is far from obvious and so it requires a tour guide. Of course, you can always walk through the park and read the written information, but that is not enough in my opinion.

Quinta da Cardiga

After visiting the Castle of Almourol and Parque de Escultura, I recommend going to a place that is only a few-minute drive away from the municipality of Vila Nova de Barquita. Quinta da Cardinha is part of Golegã, on the right bank of the Tagus River. You can’t actually visit the interior of this old farm, but just the façade and its involvement are worth seeing.

History

Like Castle of Almourol, this area also dates back to Portugal’s beginnings. It was Afonso I, the first king of Portugal, who donated the medieval castle to the Knights Templar, where the farm is found today. It was one of the castles that were part of Tagus’ line of defense (like Castle of Almourol). The keep is what is left from that period, and you can easily see it when you’re there.

The cattle farm was established in the 16th century and the house was transformed into a beautiful palace, with about 30 rooms… The keep is located in one of its patios, which was always preserved and part of Quinta da Cardiga. When this place was operating, there was also a barn, a chapel, horse stables.

Cardiga farm, Golegã
Cardiga farm
Cardiga farm, Golegã
Cardiga farm

An impressive work of engineering was conducted during that time. The course of the Tagus river was diverted around 1 km by thousands of workers, to make it closer to Quinta da Cardiga. You can see how important this place was.

Nowadays this estate of public interest is on sale for a few million euros.

 

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