The enchanting village of Monsanto is one of the 12 historic villages of Portugal which is located in the municipality of Idanha-a-nova, in the district of Castelo Branco, close to the Spanish border. This unique village is only a three-hour drive from Lisbon and takes visitors back in time as it appears to have come straight out of a fairy-tale, with houses built around giant granite boulders.
Luís Pedro Cabral cites in Adufe 21, which is the Cultural Magazine of Idanha-a-Nova, that the boulders “gives the impression that it’s protected the village from time itself and kept it intact, wrapped in history, vast natural and geological heritage, solid, like the granite from which springs its winding houses, unique in their beauty.”
Photo by Helder Santos - Instagram @heldersantos.fotografia
The village is part of the municipality of Idanha-a-Nova and stands at the top of 400 feet high hill in the first Portuguese geopark called Geopark Naturejo, which is under the protection of UNESCO and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.
This hilltop location is worthy of a visit if not purely for its bespoke views and tranquillity, perfect for strolling and capturing unforgettable sunsets. Additionally, there are plenty of churches and chapels to visit as well as the remains of the Castle of Monsanto. Last year Monsanto has received particular interest as it was announced that a prequel to the Game of Thrones season called “House of the Dragon” was filmed partly here.
Despite Monsanto being undoubtedly magical in its appearance, the village still manages to feel authentically Portuguese, having been so well preserved over the years and housing only 1,000 residents. Rightly so, this charming village was voted the most Portuguese village in 1938 by the government, winning the symbolic silver rooster which stands proudly on the top of the Torre de Rélogio (Clock Tower). Additionally, Monsanto earned the title of the most historical village in 1995.
One of the most symbolic traditions of Monsanto is the Festival of the Holy Cross which is held on the 3rd of May in order to commemorate the resistance to its history of sieges. Typically, women carry ‘marafonas’ which are typical rag-dolls to the top of the castle as well as the clay jars full of flowers are thrown from the walls. Marafonas are said to “ward off thunderstorms and bestowing fertility” much like Arouca’s birthing stones.
Castle of Monsanto
“On the way up to the castle you will find a cave and next to the village oven there is a natural belvedere looking over the plain and Monsanto’s houses running down the hillside.”
Portugal Virtual cites that “King Afonso Henriques conquered Monsanto from the Moors and, in 1165, granted it to the Templar monks who had the Castle built under the orders of Gualdim Pais. King Afonso Henriques first chartered the village in 1174 and then King Sancho I (1190) and King Afonso III (1217) confirmed the Charter. King Sancho, I rebuilt and repopulated the fortress, which had been destroyed during the fights against the king of Leão. In 1308, King Dinis granted it a Charter, which allowed a fair to take place near the Chapel of São Pedro de Vir-a-Corça. King Manuel, I granted it a New Charter in 1510, giving it the right to be a Town.”
“In the middle of the 17th century, Luis de Haro, Minister for Filipe IV, tried to siege Monsanto, but he had no success. Later on, in the beginnings of the 18th century, the Duke of Berwick also laid siege to Monsanto but the Portuguese Army, commanded by the Marquis of Minas, defeated the invader on the slopes of the hill. In 1758, Monsanto was a municipality, having kept this privilege until 1853. In the 19th Century, the imposing Castle of Monsanto was partly destroyed by the accidental explosion of the munition’s storeroom.”
12th Century Chapel of São Miguel
Historical Villages of Portugal cites that “The chapel today is isolated in the northeast area of the castle, and Monsanto’s Medieval settlement grew up around it. The floor plan of the temple has a single nave and chancel. The facade has a doorway with a semi-circular arch. The sparse decoration is only lively in the zoomorphism of the imposts and otherwise only in the modillions, whilst remains of painted mortar hint at supressed ornamentation. The bell tower was built on an overlooking rocky outcropping. Its construction dates from the late 12th or early 13th centuries.”
Fernando Namora’s House
Finally, you can also visit the Portuguese writer Fernando Namora’s house which was built in 1931. The writer also worked as the municipal doctors and it was here that he wrote his last books which are said to have been inspired by the beauty of Monsanto. At the house, you can find a plaque that has a quote from his work “The Stone Ship” (A Nave de Pedra) which is a book about Monsanto.
For more information, please visit www.aldeiashistoricasdeportugal.com or alternatively, visit @aldeiashistoricasdeportugal on Facebook. The municipality’s website is https://cm-idanhanova.pt and @municipioidanhanova on Facebook, where you can find places to stay and eat.