Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo
Located at the northeast quadrant of Guarda District, the municipality of Figueira is composed of 17 parishes covering an area of 508, 57 km 2.
Across the parishes, cereal fields and fruit trees give the countryside a beauty hardly matched, still enhanced by the imposing religious architecture with churches and chapels of rare beauty.
Nowadays, the town of Figueira and its municipality are known and recognized for its rich monumental heritage, the beauty of its landscapes, the flavour of its cuisine & wines, and for the hospitality of its people. The municipality borders North on Freixo de Espada à Cinta, East on Spain, South on Almeida, Southwest and West on Pinhel, and Northwest on Vila Nova de Foz Côa. It is located in Terras de Riba-Côa with vast landscapes, plateaus, fortresses (castles) next to the Côa Valley, and at the foothills of the impressive Marofa Mountain.
The municipality of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo is very rich in hunting species as the partridge, the turtle dove, the hare and the rabbit, which populate the region's fields together with some wild species such as the fox, the wolf, the eagle, the hawk, the owl, the vulture and the stork.
Figueira had a charter in 1209, being its seat in the parish of Castelo Rodrigo until 1836.
Castelo Rodrigo is situated on the top of a hill 820 metres high, which is part of the Hispanic Meseta, having at its foothill, on the North side, Figueira, South, the lands of Vilar Torpim, East, Nave Redonda, and West the parishes of Colmeal & Freixeda do Torrão, from which it is separated by the mountains of Vieira & Marofa. Castelo Rodrigo still keeps its medieval plan of circular outer walls, which would have been originally built by the Romans, when they probably erected there a large fortress. Destroyed by the people who came next, in 1209, the king of Léon, D. Afonso IX, creates the "perfect council" of Castelo Rodrigo, grants it the first charters and rebuilds the walls, to defend himself against the Portuguese who, at the time, were at the North of the Douro.
The name Castelo Rodrigo comes from the Count Rodrigo Gonçalves Girão who repopulated this region still before the nationality, and it also became part of the national territory since the Treaty of Alcañizes, playing a leading role in the defence of the territory.
D. Fernando had the walls repaired that soon came to be the scene of numerous fights. During the crisis of 1383-1385, the Alcalde Mayor of Castelo Rodrigo swore loyalty to D. Beatriz, and refused the keys to Mestre de Avis, a fact that would have conditioned those struggles, ruining the fortress again. D. João I punished the town by imposing an inverted shield on its coat of arms, placing it on the front of the main tower, and subduing it to the Castle of Pinhel. D. Manuel had the city walls rebuilt, fortifying them with thirteen semicircular turrets with battlements, a walk to keep guard, and four gates. The palace of Cristovão de Moura, Count of Castelo Rodrigo & one of the most remarkable men of his time, has been built within the walls in 1590. It is a noble and imposing building, which is situated in the heart of the Castle. During the Restoration period, the action of Cristovão de Moura, unconditional supporter of the Castilian monarch, excited so much the popular rage against the usurper's defenders that they set fire to the palace, causing its ruin, which is still clearly visible.
Within the walls, is situated the parish church that would have been built by a congregation of Hospital friars who settled down in Portugal in 1192. This congregation's purpose was helping the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela or to Rome.
The Castle of Almeida has ensured the defence of the town and of its inhabitants since the nationality's beginnings. The construction of this medieval building is traditionally attributed to king D. Dinis, but there is some documentary evidence that this Castle already existed in earlier times, especially since the reign of D. Afonso Henriques. The Treaty of Alcañizes, which was signed on September 12th 1297, passed Almeida to the Portuguese territory for good.
The Castle of Almeida was an impressive building which underwent constant improvement throughout the centuries. During the medieval period, Almeida was, and would go on being, a key point in the defence of Beira. Through Duarte de Armas' drawings, it is known that, in the 16th century the castle was a "majestic" building, with a double circle of walls, of trapezoidal shape, surrounded by a ditch, with four round towers placed at the corners of the outer wall.
The walls are made of stone and have four gates that in past times communicated with the outside world through drawbridges. The square is surrounded by ditches with an average height of 10 metres and a variable width of 62 metres. The town was completely surrounded by walls. This fortress, as key point of Beira defence and a jewel of Portuguese military architecture, has always been an almost inexpugnable fortification, having been linked to important pages of the national history. In 1927 it completely lost its military function.
Designed for the defence of the nationality, Almeida is nowadays one of the landmarks of fortified military architecture in Portugal, being proud of its walls and of the space the ancestors left us. It was the bravery of generals, soldiers and people who fought against the invaders that instilled confidence into the country in the Portuguese defence "Courage until Almeida".
TORRE DAS ÁGUIAS
Those who move from Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo to Almofala will find the remains of a tower three Km away from the latter. That tower served as a watchtower and probably is the rest of some Roman temple which throughout the centuries has undergone several changes, being reused in the Middle Ages as a defensive tower. Its building is prior to the Convent of Santa Maria de Aguiar - 1170 - and, as it was a safe place, it would have housed the friars while their convent was under construction. The excavations in the tower, conducted by the archaeologist Dr. Helena Frade, began on 23rd August 1989. Of the work performed it may be concluded that this is a monument of Roman foundation used as a watchtower during the Middle Ages, with walls and sidewalks of medieval structure that were built addorsed to the former building. Probably, it would have been a temple. A part of the walls kept its former height, becoming thus one of the highest and best preserved buildings from the Roman Period in the country.
There is a legend about this monument that tells: Those lands were ruled by a gentleman who lived in the tower. Once upon a time he went too far from the protective area around the tower without safety precautions, when he was hunting in the vicinity of the Águeda River cliffs. Suddenly he was attacked by the Moors who were on the lookout around that spot, as they had recently been driven out.
The Moors killed him, but one of his servants managed to warn the gentleman's wife, a very pious lady, who, from the last window of the tower, saw in the distance those who would do her the same they had done to her husband.
The nobleman, as usually, had left the door locked, and he alone could open it. She prayed so fervently to Santa Maria de Aguiar to free her from the infidels' hands, and to protect her when she jumped out of the window as she would rather die than be offended that the Saint attended to her by putting on the ground a winged horse which caught her, and safe and sound took her to a secure place. It is also said that, in gratitude, she donated her whole estate to Santa Maria de Aguiar, and that the Moorish Chief was so impressed with the miracle he witnessed that he converted himself to Christianity.
DAM OF SANTA MARIA AGUIAR
There is a dam - Santa Maria de Aguiar – which supplies the water to the whole municipality and the parishes of Almendra & Castelo Melhor of Vila Nova de Foz Côa.
It deserves special mention the Côa River which, there, is said to be the least polluted of Portugal and the best aquarium of trouts in Europa. As early as 2nd May 1758, the Abbot of Algodres, Paulo Cabral Gouveia, to the questions asked him by His Most Faithful Majesty, reported that the Côa River had impetuous course, it flowed into the Douro and it "creates plenty of barbels & boces, and the mills will take advantage of its waters to grind the bread ".
SERRA DA MAROFA
Marofa Mountain is the summit of what can be called a mountain range, as it has several components that take the name of the parishes or areas where they are. From every chosen point one can enjoy beautiful and vast landscapes, reaching the perfection at Marofa's peak because it is the highest. From the summit, at a height of 975 metres you will have a 360º view. To the East, the dam of Santa Maria de Aguiar, near the border. To the northeast is the village of Castelo Rodrigo with the remains of the fort around the hill, being the municipality's seat (Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo) three km away. To the North we perceive the deep valley of the Douro (the region of Barca d'Alva), to the South Vilar Torpim, and to the West we distinguish the geological formation of Colmeal Gorge. It is to be mentioned the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Fátima da Marofa, the Via Crucis, stretched along the North slope; along the South-West downhill there is an assemblage of small chapels evocative of the Mysteries of the Rosary that, given their rusticity, are well fitted in the environment where they are situated. They house images corresponding to the indicated Mystery and explanatory captions.
We cannot forget a beautiful granite statue of Christ the King with open arms welcoming all the municipality, and a crypt on the walls of which are inlaid the images of the patron saints of Arciprestado parishes. Someone said that the country beauty is allied with the presence of Christ the King with open arms overlooking the vast plain. It is worthwhile to visit Marofa just to see this monument raised in 1956.
ALMOND TRESS IN BLOSSOM
The municipality of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo has potential and excellent conditions to become a considerable tourist pole. It is noticeable a tourist outbreak during the hunting season and the month of blossoming almond trees. From Alto da Sapinha you can enjoy breathtaking views. The scenery is splendid and it well repays your efforts in going up there. The first excursion to Barca de Alva, to watch the almond trees in blossom already dates from 3rd March 1941.
FOZ CÔA ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
It is a cultural landscape of great beauty which encompasses 300 centuries of history, being a living example of traditional Mediterranean agriculture at work. It is the most extensive array of open air Palaeolithic rock art in Western Europe.
The engravings span the Upper Palaeolithic (from 28,000 to 8,000 B.C.) with representations of wild oxen, goats and wild horses, the Neolithic and Chalcolithic (from 5,500 to 2,000 B.C.) with paintings of men and deer, and the Iron Age (1,000 B. C.) with scenes of riders holding spears. Cáceres Monteiro stated that: "The Côa region encloses a very particular mystic nature, a magnetic appeal one has always felt in the atmosphere of that rocky land covered in broom. With the discovery of the engravings a part of such mystery has been finally explained and enhanced". The words of a palaeontologist of the Museum of Man in Paris provided the essential element: "the valley was a sanctuary of Prehistory men". Tours to some nuclei of engravings are organized since August 1996.
The nuclei of rock art open to the public are:
- Penascosa, where the drawings of goats predominate. One of which has been chosen as the park symbol.
- The route Castelo-Melhor - Penascosa is one of the most beautiful stretches of the Côa River,
- Muxagata - Ribeira de Priscos,
- Foz Côa - Canada do Inferno (on the left bank of the river, right in the middle of the dam's building establishment),
- Quinta da Ervamoira, a private property located within the park. There is a museum which displays the heritage of the Roman and Medieval periods found at archaeological excavations.