The reign of Denis of Portugal (1279-1325), the 6th Portuguese king, was one of the most commended by chroniclers of his time and by historians. Without a doubt, it was one of the monarchs that marked our History the most. However, in the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal, his name carries even more weight. Denis of Portugal ensured that many border fortresses became Portuguese instead of Castilian.

Vista aérea da Barragem do Rio Côa, no Sabugal. Foto de João Cosme.

In 1279, Denis of Portugal was 17 years old when he was crowned King. The border between Portugal and Castile was still defined by the Côa River – from its source (located in the Serra das Mesas in the village of Fóios in the municipality of Sabugal) to the point where it flows into the Douro in Vila Nova de Foz Côa.

In 1282, Denis of Portugal received and met the woman he had married by proxy four months prior, Elizabeth, daughter of Peter III, king of Aragon, who would later go on to be the Saint Queen. He visited Trancoso, one of the fortresses that guarded this part of the border and was the permanent reason for conflicts between Portugal and Castile. Denis of Portugal returned to this region later in 1296 to cross the Côa and occupy the Castilian fortresses of Riba Côa.

After this military feat, the monarch entered into a treaty to consolidate the borders and commit to peace. On September 12, 1297, the Treaty of Alcañices was signed, resulting in the border we now have.

The treaty incorporated Riba Côa into national territory, including the castles of Alfaiates, Almeida, Caria Atalaia, Castelo Bom, Castelo Melhor, Castelo Rodrigo, Monforte de Riba Côa, Sabugal, and Vilar Maior.

After consolidating the territory, with a strong strategic sense, Denis of Portugal invested in what became one of the most ambitious programs to restore our defense system. Between 1288 and 1315, he left the Gothic style in 55 castles. These works allowed many of them to remain standing to this day and are valued for being testaments to the military architecture of that period.

Nine fortifications were reconstructed in the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal: Alfaiates, Almeida, Castelo Bom, Castelo Melhor, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Rodrigo, Pinhel, Sabugal (whose intervention transformed it into the prototype for the Gothic castle), and Vilar Maior. All these castles were active when they came under Portuguese control with the signing of the Treaty of Alcañices. This way, Denis of Portugal demonstrated that these defensive structures had become Portuguese.

Partly thanks to Denis of Portugal, the castles and walls of the Historic Villages of Portugal and their surrounding locations still stand today. Aside from fighting for the lands of Riba Côa, he guaranteed that their imposing and watchful castles were maintained to defend our territory.