Cathedral of Guarda

The district of Guarda is located in the Portuguese region of Beira Alta, bounded on the north by Braganza, on the east by Spain and on the south by Castelo Branco. It is a deeply mountainous region, and this is where one can find the highest peak of Serra de Estrela, with an elevation of 1,999 m. Serra da Estrela is a mountain range located in the center interior of Portugal.

Torre (Tower, in English), the highest point of this mountain range, is the 2nd highest Portuguese peak. The 1st is Mount Pico located on the homonyms island, in the archipelago of the Azores. It has 2,351 meters.

This area of Guarda comprises some of the 12 historic villages of Portugal. These are regarded as truly stunning settings, whose old semblance remains untouched. They are found at the top of the mountain, aligned with the country’s border (with Spain). They were used as defensive and lookout points.

The city of Guarda and its history

The city of Guarda is Portugal’s highest, as it is located in the extreme northeast of Serra da Estrela, at 1056 meters above sea level. It is known as the city of the 5 F:

  • Fria (Cold): it has a highland climate, having on average 14 days of snow a year;
  • Forte (Strong): due to its altitude, it was known as the “shield of Estrela”;
  • Farta (Fruitful): due to the soil fertility of Mondego valley;
  • Fiel (Faithful): Álvaro Gil Cabral refused to hand out the keys of the city to the King of Castile;
  • Formosa (Beautiful): due to its natural beauty.

There is evidence showing that the city was already inhabited in prehistoric times, but its official foundation only took place in 1190. Sancho I, the 2nd King of Portugal and the son of Afonso I, was its founder.

King D. Sancho I

Over the years, Guarda was one of the most prominent strongholds of a network of fortifications that protected the Portuguese border, during the Middle Ages. The city’s name derives precisely from the relevance that it had from a defensive point of view, as it was considered the border’s Guard (Guarda).

This city holds a vast cultural and architectonic heritage, as well as a first-rate cuisine. In my opinion, this area of the Portuguese interior is extremely interesting and is totally worth a visit.

Motto of the city

It’s also interesting to know that the city’s founder, Sancho I, had a mistress who ended up being quite popular. Maria Pais Ribeiro was her name, but everyone knew her as Ribeirinha. The city’s motto derives from an excerpt of a song that the king dedicated to his lover: “Ay muito me tarda/O meu amigo na Guarda” (“Oh, friend of mine/You take so long in Guarda”, in English).

The spot where these lovers met is still signalled at Rua Dom Sancho I, not that far from the city’s Cathedral.

Over the years, Guarda was the stage of several infatuations, with some even saying that the marriage between Peter I and Inês de Castro was celebrated in this city.

The Cathedral

The centre of the city of Guarda has several points of interest, but the one that stands out the most is the Cathedral. This monument is one of Portugal’s most iconic, mixing elements of the Gothic and Manueline architectural styles. It stands majestically right in the heart of Guarda.

Details of the cathedral
Details of the cathedral
Details of the cathedral

Sancho I, the King and city’s founder, was the one who ordered its edification in 1199. He requested the transfer of the diocese’s headquarters to Guarda and that forced him to immediately build a cathedral.

However, not a single trace of the 1st building can be found today, and the same happens with the 2nd, whose construction took place years later. The imposing monument that we can see nowadays is the 3rd building. Its construction started in 1390 and it was only concluded after 150 years. Since it took almost two centuries to be finished, it ended up being influenced by more than one style.

When seen from afar, its fortified appearance, as well as its pinnacles and buttresses, quickly stand out. Its three nave interior is embellished by a high altar carved in Ançã stone. It holds 100 carved figures, which are nowadays one of the city’s symbols.