One of the prettiest, and most visited places in Portugal, is the beautiful hilltop town of Óbidos. Encircled by a fortified wall, Óbidos is one of the best-preserved medieval towns on the Iberian Peninsula. Its historical centre is stunning, whitewashed houses with flower covered balconies decorate a labyrinth of cobblestoned streets. It’s streets, squares, walls and castle attract thousands of visitors each year.
The name Óbidos is a Latinisation of the “oppidum” which itself is a derivation of the old Celtic word “Eburobricio” meaning citadel. Although the area has been inhabited for thousands of years, the first settle was constructed by the early Celt tribes which later became a trade centre for the Phoenicians. Back then, sea levels were much higher and the town was located on the Portuguese coast. This was eventually turned into a Roman town of Eburobrittium. Recent excavations have revealed a forum, baths and other structures from this period.
The downfall of Rome saw the Visigoths take control of the town which continued until the Moors arrived in 713 on the hill which included a Christian community being located in the Moncharro neighbourhood.
The Christians reconquered the town in 1148 by the first King of Portugal Alfonso Henriques, in fact, Óbidos was the last town to fall in the Estremadura region of the country. Later, King Sancho I visited Óbidos with his future wife Urraca, so enamoured with the place was she, that on their wedding night in 1210 he gave the city to her as a gift. From that moment on, each and every Portuguese monarch has given the town to his wife. Because of this tradition, Óbidos is today referred to as the ‘Town of the Queens”. Several royal consorts have thus embellished the region with rich donation to both the village and surrounding area.
The 1755 earthquake which decimated the country’s capital, Lisbon, also damaged the walls, churches and many of the civil building in the town.
It’s possible to walk around the unprotected walls for wonderful views of both the town and the surrounding countryside. Although heavily restored, the walls date back to the Moors and include several towers, battlements and solid gates.
Although foundations date back before the Roman period, the present structure was built over several centuries after the reconquest in 1148. Today it is a pousada, a luxury 5-star hotel owned by the Portuguese government.
Igreja de Santa Maria (The Church of Santa Maria)
The town’s main church which stand on the ruins of a visigothic temple which was later converted into a mosque. The church we see today, although restored several times, dates back to the 12th century. On the 15th August 1441, a royal wedding took place here when a 10-year-old Alfonso V married his 8-tear-old cousin Isabella of Coimbra here.
It is worthwhile taking a look inside see its walls covered in 17th century azulejos (blue & white) tiles, as well as an impressive painted ceiling.
Josefa de Óbidos
The interior of the church also has several paintings by the local painter Josefa de Óbidos which are to the right of the altar. Josefa was a painter from the 17th century who was a little different to the norms of the time, she was female. Traditionally, women of that period where nuns, wives or mothers. Josefa managed to establish herself not only as one of Portugal’s best artists of the 17th century, but also one of its most respected.
Festival Internacional do Chocolate (International Chocolate Festival)
Each March more than 200,000 people decend on the town for this incredible 12-day celebration of chocolate. There is a chocolate recipe contest, chocolate themed fashion show, chocolate sculpture exhibit as well as the “Portuguese Chocolatier of the Year” award. For the children there is even a playhouse, made entirely of chocolate … but its only for the children.