History in Guimarães and Christmas in Porto

Authored by:
Kevin M.

Hello All,

My time in Portugal is winding to a close. I only have two weeks remaining before the end of the program. Afterwards I will spend a week in Ireland before heading back to the US for Christmas. Still, I'm taking in as much as I can now since I know it will be over soon. 

One of the unanticipated benefits of my time abroad with CIEE has been that, while working alongside teachers, I have been able to learn along with my students. Since I went to school in a different country and culture, much of the subject matter is new to me - especially Portuguese history, which I help with for one hour a week. I learned that the country was founded during the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, an era I am familiar with from studying abroad in Spain during college. In 1128, the Kingdom that would become Portugal split from several other kingdoms that would later become Spain. Many consider this the year of the country's founding, which makes Portugal the oldest still-existing state in Europe.

This weekend, I saw Portuguese history in person when I visited the city of Guimarães. The Portuguese call Guimarães "Cidade Berço" or "The Cradle City," as it is considered the birthplace of the Portuguese nation. Not only is it said to be the birthplace of the country's first King, but it also was the site of a consequential battle that led to the founding of the Portuguese kingdom. It is fitting, then, that visitors to Guimarães are greeted by a wall with the words "aqui nasceu Portugal" - "Portugal was born here" - on the side. The city center is preserved with its old medieval architecture. I found an old castle, a duke's palace, remnants of the city wall, and many old houses, monasteries, and plazas. Europe is full of these fascinating old cities, and Guimarães' importance to Portuguese national identity made it particularly interesting.

The next day, I went into Porto with my host family to see the Christmas season in full effect. Porto's urban, modern pace was quite a leap from the time capsule atmosphere of Guimarães.  In addition to taking in all the Christmas lights and enjoying the music and the festive atmosphere, I visited Livraria Lello. This famous bookstore was the inspiration for several scenes in the Harry Potter films - you'll see the resemblance in the photos! 

That's all for now. I am currently working on Christmas-related lessons for my classes. I will write again at the end of the next week to let you know how it went, and to give some final thoughts on Portugal and my volunteer experience. 

Below: Scenes from Guimarães, Porto at Christmas, and Livraria Lello


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