Welcome to a realm where reality intertwines with myth! As you walk through the narrow, cobblestone streets of quaint Portuguese villages, beneath the gaze of ancient fortresses, and alongside the sweeping, rugged coastline, lies a world unseen, yet deeply woven into the fabric of the land - a world of legends, folklore, and mystique.
Portugal, a country of dramatic landscapes and vibrant cultures, has a rich tapestry of folklore that has been spun from the dreams, fears, hopes, and experiences of its people. These tales, passed down through the generations, are as fascinating as they are diverse. Each narrative unveils a facet of Portugal's soul that remains hidden in the everyday.
Yet, like the misty morning fog that shrouds the Douro Valley, these stories are nebulous and ever-changing. Each narrative is shaped and reshaped, as much by the teller as by the listener. Variations abound, as each region and each storyteller lends their unique colour to the story's canvas. Therefore, it is important to note that these legends are part of folklore and oral tradition. Consequently, versions may vary depending on the source, the region, and the storyteller.
This journey into the heart of Portuguese legends is an invitation to peer beneath the surface of the picturesque panoramas and delve into the mystical depths of the country's heritage. It is a trip into a timeless world where ancient superstitions breathe life into the landscape!
The legend of Oureana
The Legend of Oureana, also known as the Legend of the Origin of Ourém or the Legend of Fátima, is a rich and evocative story that unfolds during the time of the Christian Reconquest, a period of conflicts and cultural clashes.
According to the legend, there was a Moorish princess of great beauty named Fátima, who was captured during an ambush by the Templar knight Gonçalo Hermingues, also known as Traga-Mouros (Moor Eater). After her capture, Fátima was taken to the knight's stronghold. Her captivating beauty and strong spirit eventually charmed Gonçalo, who fell in love with her. Fátima, in turn, despite initially resenting the knight for her capture, ended up falling in love with him as well.
Motivated by her love for Gonçalo and her new appreciation for the Christian faith, Fátima decided to convert to Christianity. Upon embracing her new faith, she adopted the name Oureana.
Gonçalo, delighted with her conversion and moved by the love he felt for Oureana, proposed to her. She accepted, and the couple settled in a region that, over time, came to be known as Ourém, a corruption of the name Oureana.
This picturesque place, where the couple found happiness, is today known as the city of Ourém. The story of Oureana and Gonçalo is a tale of love, faith, and cultural integration that is told to this day, reminding us of the unifying power of love and the beauty of the city of Ourém.
When visiting Fátima, you should take the time to visit the important Sanctuary of Fátima, which is actually the most significant religious site in Portugal, and one of the most important in the world for Catholics - however, it is a mesmerizing site regardless of one's religious affiliations. It is associated with the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in 1917. The site includes the Chapel of the Apparitions, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, and the Basilica of the Holy Trinity.
The homes of the three shepherd children, Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta, are located in the nearby village of Aljustrel. These small houses have been preserved and are open to visitors.
In Ourém, be sure to visit the Ourém Castle, one of Portugal's many medieval castles, offering beautiful views of the town and surrounding countryside. It is an important national monument!
The legend of Dom Fuas Roupinho
The Legend of Dom Fuas Roupinho is one of the most famous and important legends in Portugal. It is directly linked to the city of Nazaré and the miraculous intervention of Our Lady of Nazaré.
Dom Fuas Roupinho was a nobleman and a knight of King Afonso Henriques' court in the 12th century. He was also a brave warrior who fought in the Christian Reconquest.
According to the legend, on the morning of September 8, 1182, Dom Fuas went hunting on his horse in the dense fog near the cliffs of Nazaré. Suddenly, he saw a deer, which he immediately pursued. The deer, in an attempt to escape, ran towards the edge of a very high cliff known today as the "Cliff of the Miracle". Dom Fuas, engrossed in the chase and with the fog obstructing his view, continued to pursue the deer, approaching the edge of the cliff.
When he realized the imminent danger, he invoked Our Lady of Nazaré, pleading for his salvation. At that moment, his horse miraculously stopped, standing on its hind legs, just at the edge of the cliff, saving Dom Fuas from certain death.
In gratitude for this miracle, Dom Fuas ordered the construction of the Chapel of Memory (Ermida da Memória) on that very spot, where an existing small cave with a carving of the Black Madonna already served as a place of worship.
The legend of Dom Fuas Roupinho has become an emblematic symbol of faith for the Portuguese people, and his miraculous salvation is celebrated every year on September 8th in Nazaré.
Nowadays, Nazaré is considered a very picturesque coastal town, known for its beautiful beaches, unique traditions, and giant waves that attract surfers from around the world. Some of the highlights include the Praia da Nazaré, which is the town’s main beach, characterized by its golden sand and beautiful Atlantic waves and the Praia do Norte, famous for its gigantic waves. This beach has made Nazaré a top destination for surfers! Once in town, be sure to visit the Sítio da Nazaré, the older part of town, located on a cliff above the main beach area. It is home to the beautiful Nossa Senhora da Nazaré Sanctuary and offers stunning views over the ocean. You can also pay a visit to the Nossa Senhora da Nazaré Sanctuary, a 17th-century church that is an important pilgrimage site, known for its beautiful tiles depicting biblical scenes and its revered statue of Our Lady of Nazaré, and visit the Fort of São Miguel Arcanjo, a 16th-century fort offering panoramic views over Praia do Norte.
The legend of João Torto
The legend of João Torto is one of the many captivating tales woven into the rich cultural tapestry of Portugal. It is a tale from the city of Viseu, in central Portugal, of a man who was determined to defy nature and reach the sky.
João Torto was a simple and eccentric man from Viseu who had an audacious dream: he wanted to fly like a bird. Obsessed with this idea, he decided to build himself a pair of wings. João spent many days and nights working on his wings, using what materials he could find, crafting them with care and precision.
Finally, the day came when João felt his wings were ready. In 1540, as the city of Viseu watched in anticipation and observers sent by King João III, known as "The Pious," looked on, João Torto waited until late afternoon to make his audacious attempt. The bishop had given permission for a launch ramp to be built at the peak of the church. For many hours, the local community congregated in the town square, filled with a palpable sense of anticipation. He climbed to the top of the Cathedral of Viseu, the highest point in the city. The townsfolk gathered had their eyes wide with a mix of incredulity and fascination.
João, standing atop the tower, spread his wings and, with a deep breath, leapt into the void. For a moment, it seemed as if he was indeed flying, but gravity soon took hold, and he plunged towards the earth.
Despite the tragic end of his endeavor, the crowd still erupted in applause, caught up in the thrill of the moment, and João Torto's story lived on, passing from generation to generation. He became a symbol of daring imagination and the human yearning to defy limits, to chase dreams, no matter how unreachable they may seem.
Some versions of this legend suggest that João Torto survived his fall, while others say he succumbed to his injuries. Despite the variations, the essence of the tale — a man's undying desire to fly — remains the same, making João Torto a legendary figure in the folklore of Viseu.
Today, João's name is commemorated on a street in Viseu, forever remembered as Portugal's first Icarus.
Viseu is a very quaint city in central Portugal, renowned for its interesting history, but also for its stunning architecture and renowned Dão vineyards. Once there, be sure to pay a visit to the Sé de Viseu, the cathedral from the tale, which is a Romanesque and Gothic religious site, dating back to the 12th century. It is in fact one of the oldest monuments in Viseu! You should also make a stop at the Grão Vasco Museum, located in the old Bishop’s Palace, which houses a collection of work from Vasco Fernandes, a prominent Renaissance painter. Take a stroll along the imposing city walls, which exude a medieval charm, and lay back at the Aquilino Ribeiro Park, a beautiful urban green space in the heart of the city. Once in Viseu, it is mandatory to try the exquisite local wines, as Viseu is the capital of the Dão wine region, known for its high-quality wines.
The legend of Seteais
The Legend of Seteais (or Sete Ais), is tied to the beautiful palace and now hotel, known as Palácio de Seteais, in the magical town of Sintra.
The legend speaks of a Christian knight, Sir Mendo de Paiva, who was among the first to ascend the Sintra mountain range. Upon reaching the summit, he discovered a concealed passage from which several Moors were fleeing. Among the escapees was an extraordinarily beautiful Moorish princess, accompanied by her handmaiden. On noticing the knight, the maiden uttered a fearful sigh, or an "Ai," (a term expressing grief, fear or regret in Portuguese) exposing their escape. Her anxious attendant pleaded with her to suppress any further sighs.
Sir Mendo decided to take the beautiful princess captive, leading her to sigh a second "Ai." This evoked a confession from the maiden that the princess was cursed to die upon sighing the seventh "Ai." The shock of this revelation led the princess to let out her third sigh. Skeptical of this tale, Sir Mendo dismissed it, which triggered the princess's fourth sigh.
Upon announcing that he would take both women as prisoners, the beautiful princess sighed for the fifth time. The handmaiden became desperate as her lady had already sighed five times. The knight remained dismissive of the curse and decided to search for a calm retreat for his captives. In his absence, a group of Moors overheard the conversation and planned to abduct the women. In a swift act, they beheaded the handmaiden, causing the lady to sigh for the sixth time. The seventh and fatal "Ai" was the princess's final utterance before she too was beheaded.
Returning to find the princess lifeless, a heartbroken Sir Mendo named that corner of Sintra "Seteais" in honour of the beautiful Moorish lady.
Sintra, nestled within the verdant hills of Portugal and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, hypnotizes visitors with its natural beauty and architectural gems. On the highest peaks of the Sintra Mountains, the colourful Pena Palace surveys the landscape, its vibrant palette and eclectic styles embodying 19th-century Romanticism. In contrast, the bewitching Quinta da Regaleira enchants with its blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline influences, scattered among luxurious parks, tranquil lakes, mysterious grottoes, and ornate fountains.
Tracing back to the 9th century, the Moorish Castle stands as a testament to the region's past, its restored walls and towers offering panoramic vistas. Meanwhile, the National Palace of Sintra, distinguished by its two unique chimneys, whispers tales of the numerous royal figures who once resided within its walls, where Gothic, Manueline, Moorish, and Mudejar styles coalesce.
Adding to Sintra's architectural mosaic is the Monserrate Palace, an elegant 19th-century structure harmonizing Portuguese, Gothic, and Indian designs, ensconced within a meticulously landscaped park. The neoclassical Seteais Palace, the site of the tale, now serving as a luxury hotel, infuses romance into the Sintra landscape. Just as fascinating is the Capuchos Convent, a 16th-century hermitage carved into the rock and cloaked in cork, reflecting the simpler, more austere side of Sintra's history.
The legend of Boca do Inferno
The Boca do Inferno is a popular natural landmark on the coastline of Cascais, a town near Lisbon. The site features a chasm where the Atlantic Ocean crashes into the rocks, producing a dramatic spectacle, especially during stormy weather.
There is an enduring tale of a powerful sorcerer who wed a beautiful young woman. In a fit of jealousy, the sorcerer confined his bride to a tower, appointing a knight to keep a watchful eye on her. Over time, curiosity enticed the knight to climb the tower, where he encountered the captivating prisoner. An unexpected love blossomed between them, driving them to plan an escape.
In their attempt to flee on horseback, the sorcerer's fury led him to use his powers to create a chasm in the rocks. This gaping hole swallowed both the horse and the riders in their bid for freedom. At that instant, their horse let out an enormous squeal. This action led to the naming of a nearby beach as "Guincho Beach" (guincho translates to squeal or scream), a name inspired by the last animalistic cry that reached as far as this coastal spot.
Ever since that fateful day, the opening never sealed, giving birth to what is now known as the Boca do Inferno or "Mouth of Hell". This enduring tale adds a layer of mystique to the natural wonder, making it an even more intriguing place to visit.
There is, however, another story linked to this site, based on historical events. Aleister Crowley, infamous for his practices in the occult and mysticism, arrived in Portugal accompanied by the poet Fernando Pessoa. They concocted a plan to stage Crowley's death at the Boca do Inferno to gain public attention. Crowley left behind a suicide note on the cliffs of Boca do Inferno and then disappeared.
Pessoa 'found' the note and alerted the Portuguese newspapers. The story was widely reported, and Crowley was believed to be dead. In reality, he had taken a train to Berlin. Several weeks later, when Crowley resurfaced alive and well in Berlin, it created a media sensation.
Please note that this legend is based on historical events, though some details might have been altered or exaggerated over time. The Boca do Inferno remains, to this day, a popular tourist attraction due to its striking natural beauty.
However, once in Cascais, there are plenty of other highlights for you to marvel at. Cascais is a delightful seaside town, nestled on the Estoril Coast. Its sunny beaches, such as Tamariz and Guincho, are a favourite retreat for both locals and tourists alike, providing splendid opportunities for sunbathing and water sports. Amidst its whitewashed streets and pastel-coloured villas, you will find impressive architectural gems, like the flamboyant yellow fortress, the Citadel of Cascais, which guards the harbour and provides stunning views of the bay. Its museums, including the Museum of the Sea and the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, offer captivating glimpses into Portugal's maritime history and contemporary art, respectively. Cascais's lively marina, lined with a variety of restaurants and bars, is perfect for enjoying local seafood and the beautiful setting sun.
The Sintra-Cascais Natural Park invites explorers to hike its diverse landscape, from verdant forests to sand dunes, and enjoy its flora and fauna. As the day comes to an end, the sounds of lively music emanating from the town's vibrant nightlife scene signal a continuation of the fun.
The legend of Pedro e Inês
We can almost say that the story of Pedro and Inês is a “Romeo and Juliet” in Portugal! The tale of Pedro and Inês is, without a doubt, Portugal's most renowned love story, as it seamlessly weaves together elements of passion, tragedy, and eternal devotion. Resonating through the country's culture, it even features in Portugal's epic poem "Os Lusíadas". The story dates back to the 14th century, during the reign of King Afonso IV.
Prince Pedro, who would later become Pedro I, the eighth King of Portugal, was a character of remarkable complexity. Known as the Cruel and the Just, his paradoxical personality was reflected in his controversial love story with Inês de Castro, a lady-in-waiting to his wife, Princess Constança.
Even while married to Constança, Pedro and Inês shared a clandestine love. Upon Constança's death, Pedro publicly acknowledged his relationship with Inês, causing an uproar in the kingdom. This was not solely because the relationship was viewed as immoral, but more significantly, because Inês' family was gaining political influence, posing a threat to the line of succession.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Pedro's father, King Afonso IV, succumbed to the pressure of his advisors and gave the order for Inês' assassination. This heart-breaking event plunged Pedro into a maelstrom of grief and fury, sparking a civil war that lasted until August the following year.
Upon ascending to the throne after his father's death, one of Pedro's initial acts was to exact vengeance on Inês' assassins, perpetuating his reputation as the Cruel and the Just. Then, in a twist worthy of a Hollywood thriller, he attempted to prove that he had secretly wedded Inês, seeking to crown her as the queen posthumously.
This macabre spectacle was said to have involved the entire kingdom's representatives being called to witness the coronation of Inês' body, and to pay their respects by kissing her decaying hand.
In his final tribute to his beloved, Pedro commissioned two magnificent tombs for them in Alcobaça, their resting places facing each other, allowing them to reunite at the end of the world. These tombs, often considered masterpieces of European Gothic sepulchral sculpture, stand as a testament to their enduring love story, still resonating through the heart of Portugal today.
The story of Pedro and Inês de Castro unfolded in several key locations across Portugal during the 14th century, but Coimbra was the primary setting for much of the Pedro and Inês narrative.
Coimbra is a beautiful and important riverfront city, crowned by one of Europe's oldest universities, the University of Coimbra. This esteemed institution, with its stunning Joanina Library and a bell tower offering panoramic views, is an integral part of the city's identity. Meandering down from the university hill, you encounter the Old Cathedral (Sé Velha), a fortress-like Romanesque structure that has withstood centuries. Coimbra's lower town, the Baixa, invites exploration of its narrow streets lined with traditional cafes and boutiques. A symbol of the city's romantic history is the Quinta das Lágrimas, a beautiful estate linked to the tragic love story of Pedro and Inês. The Monastery of Santa Cruz, holding the tombs of Portugal’s first two kings, is another significant site.
If you are interested in visiting the tombs of these two lovers, then you should stop by Alcobaça, most famous for its grand Monastery of Alcobaça, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a marvel of Gothic architecture. Nearby, the Alcobaça Castle ruins offer a glimpse into the town's medieval past, and the beautiful Garden of Love (Jardim do Amor) is a peaceful haven.
The legend of Sete Cidades
The Sete Cidades, located on São Miguel Island in the Azores, is known for its jaw-dropping twin lakes, the Green Lake and the Blue Lake (but in reality, it is a single lagoon that is the largest natural freshwater reservoir in the Azores), nestled within a large volcanic crater. A captivating legend surrounds these lakes and the area. The fable is, however, more magical and interesting than reality - the green lagoon reflects the colour of the vegetation and the blue lagoon is the colour of the sky, creating a breathtaking and different setting.
The tale begins with a powerful king who ruled over the island. His beautiful daughter, a princess, was known for her mesmerizing green eyes. The princess loved exploring the idyllic pastures of the island, where she once met a shepherd with striking blue eyes. Despite their differences in status, they fell deeply in love.
However, the king, disapproving of their relationship due to the shepherd's humble status, forbade his daughter from seeing the shepherd again. The heartbroken princess and the shepherd met one last time to say goodbye, where they cried until their tears formed two lakes — the princess's tears forming the Green Lake, reflecting the colour of her eyes, and the shepherd's tears forming the Blue Lake, reflecting his.
The striking hues of the twin lakes at Sete Cidades represent the eyes of the two lovers, a lasting reminder of their forbidden love. The panoramic views and the emotional legend have made the Sete Cidades one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Azores. But the Sete Cidades lagoon is far from the only site that deserves the attention of curious visitors.
Furnas, for example, is a small village known for its hot springs, geysers, and cooking holes where the traditional Azorean stew, "cozido", is made by burying it in the geothermally heated ground. The Terra Nostra Park, a beautiful botanical garden with a thermal pool, is also a must-visit in Furnas. Be sure to also visit the Lagoa do Fogo, a stunning crater lake surrounded by high peaks and verdant vegetation. The lake is a nature reserve and one of the island's most precious natural resources, offering excellent opportunities for hiking and birdwatching. Ponta Delgada is, however, the capital city of the Azores, and it has beautiful colonial architecture, charming cobblestone streets, and inviting restaurants serving local cuisine. Some of the landmarks include the city gates (Portas da Cidade) and the Church of St. Sebastian.