Located in a vast high plain overlooking the Côa River, Almeida was one of the most important strongholds in Portugal during Modern Age. Although it had been occupied by humans since the Palaeolithic, it was only during the Arabic period that it received the name al mêda, which means “the table”, possibly referring to the flat soil in which the village was established. There is an ancient tale which has enriched its history. According to this tale, the name comes from a sumptuous table, decorated with precious stones which once stood at this spot.
However, it was the role Almeida played in the military defense of the border during the first years of the Portuguese independence which is truly important. It was the stage of many fights between the Castilians and the Portuguese and it was taken and reconquered many times between them. Almeida would be taken at last by the Portuguese, led by King D. Dinis, in 1296. At the time, the village had been destroyed by several years of war and so, the King decided to change its location to where it now stands. He then ordered that a new castle should be built and granted the village its first charter. Since then, Almeida became one of the most important fortifications in the Riba-Côa lands.
Although King Manuel expanded the fortifications of the Almeida stronghold, it was in 1640 that a great fortification bastion in the shape of a star was built. It rises imposingly with its six bastions, the stronghold forms a round wall around the town and it was the main defensive weapon of the Beira lands against the attacks of Spanish armies during the Restoration and Independence wars. Only Napoleon’s armies were able to conquer this fortress which had once been impregnable, mostly because it had been abandoned thirty years earlier.
In 1810, the stronghold which had once defended the Portuguese independence, had been conquered by the French and was later turned into a political prison during the Liberal Wars finally lost its military functions. This masterpiece of military engineering became a quiet place to rest close to the border and it awaits your visit.
In Almeida, you should visit:
- 2500 meters of walls in the shape of a twelve-pointed star which allowed soldiers to engage in crossfire;
- The ditch of the fortress which is 12 meters deep and 62 meters wide;
- The old artillery barracks and jails, a building built during the 17th century in Baroque style and in which the City Hall is currently settled;
- The Misericórdia Church;
- The Matriz Church.