31 May 2012

Castelo Novo - A short visit to the medieval Portugal

I can't remember how many times I've already passed nearby Castelo Novo, while cruising the A-23, the highway of Beira Interior, on my way to the Central Massif. Surely more than thirty. And in all those times I've just passed by. Glancing the eyes quickly to the urban landscape surrounded by the natural amphitheatre of the Gardunha mountain, to avoid deadly driving mistakes. And every time the eight-hundred year old granitic village glazed back to me. In a reproachable contempt. As if she was asking if I was such an important person to refuse to stop for a visit, since her presence was so obvious. Or maybe she didn't care at all. And all these conjectures were just a product of my imagination.
Either way, Castelo Novo is far to present in the landscape to be for ever ignored. So one day, about one year ago, on my way back from Serra da Estrela, I stopped by.
Best thing I've ever done in that day, since the village, although small, is wonderful.
A telluric force emerges from the old town, while we walk along the old cobbled paths. It's like she was carved on the mountain instead of built, since her chameleonic granitic shape and colour is so similar to the adjacent mountain.
I was feeling very humble. Here I was in a village officially with 800 years old (her first Foral Chart is supposed to be from 1202), but whose History goes all the way from the Chalcolithic Era to the Brass and Iron Eras until the (somehow) more recent Roman occupation. Her first years of "official" existence are strongly connected to the Knights Templar, religious order to whom she was given by the Portuguese King.
And, according to the historians, the name Castelo Novo ("New Castle") was probably given to her due to the fact that before her formal existence there was... an old castle ("Castelo Velho") in the same place or close by.
The village of about 400 inhabitants doesn't attract a lot of visitants. Witch is good, since you can walk around in a peaceful atmosphere, only interrupted by the occasional dog barking or the (rare) car passing by. Interesting spots are many, since all the village is a living museum. However, the main square with the town hall and the "Pelourinho" (pillory) are mandatory visits as it is the castle, witch can be reached by a short climb from the town centre. From there, you'll have a magnificent vista over the Cova da Beira and beyond that, further to the East, you can see, one hundred kilometres away, the lands of Spain.
Since I have arrived in the peak of the afternoon sun, the light was not the better for photo purposes. However, I have the feeling that in a next opportunity arriving to Castelo Novo before sunrise will hopefully bless the ancient granitic walls with a gentle light from the East at dawn.
Be that as it may, don't ever think about not stopping by, while on route in the A-23, either the light is good or not, and regardless if it is dawn, dusk or simply plain and flat noon time. If the light is not good, just seat down in a "esplanada". Drink a coffee, a tea or a water. Relax and feel the millenary History around you. You will enjoy Castelo Novo. In my case, it was better late than never.
A glimpse of the millenary village of Castelo Novo, with the castle's "Torre de Menagem" (Keep) right behind the granit houses and the clock tower on the picture's right background.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
The clock tower and the castle walls in a closer look.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
The town "Pelourinho" (Pillory), where in ancient times justice was applied by means of a... good spanking. Something that the vast majority of our worldwide politicians in the present days would deserve. To say the least.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
The castle walls facing the granitic mass of the Gardunha mountain.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
To the far East, on the horizon, the Kingdom of Spain. On the foreground, the clock tower and the remains of the castle walls.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.