From Romans to Muslims, several peoples left their mark in the Historic Villages of Portugal – forever defining a region that is unique and unparalleled in all the world.
The Romans were the first to occupy the territory of the Historic Villages of Portugal. Their legacy is still visible, especially in the Historic Village of Idanha-a-Velha, where a new door of Roman origin was recently discovered. Erected in the space where the ancient capital of Civitas Igaeditanorum, Igaedis, once stood, Idanha-a-Velha still preserves the remnants of what once had been one of the main cities of the Roman Empire in the current Beira Interior region. For example, the Ponte Velha (Old Bridge) over the Ponsul river is worth a visit. Of Roman origin, this bridge would lead to the road that connected Mérida to Braga.
The region of the Historic Villages of Portugal also came under Swabian reign (419-585) and then Visigothic reign (568-711). With the former, the Historic Village of Idanha-a-Velha became Episcopal Headquarters, a function that it maintained with the latter. Under Visigothic reign, Idanha-a-Velha and Monsanto had the rare privilege of coining tridents (Visigothic gold coins).
Some time afterward, Muslims occupied the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal. Idanha-a-Velha was the first Historic Village that they took over in 713. The most important historical references and testaments to their rule may be found today in Castelo Rodrigo, Idanha-a-Velha (Kuwar headquarters, the Muslim administrative unit that is similar to a district), and Trancoso. Arabic toponyms are frequent in the region, and three Historic Villages inherited names with this origin: Almeida, Idanha-a-Velha, and Marialva.
Christians arrived in the region of the Historic Villages either in the last quarter of the 9th century (after 878) or in the first decades of the 10th century. They conquered the zone east of Lamego, between Távora and the Côa, and under their rule, they incorporated the Historic Village of Trancoso, where they built one of the first castles on Portuguese territory. To the east of the Côa River (where the Historic Villages of Almeida and Castelo Rodrigo are located, for example), a more or less continuous Muslim presence remained until Ferdinand the Great took over Castro de São Justo (the Historic Village of Marialva), among other territories, during his Campaign of the Beiras (1055-1064).
Notwithstanding, due to its strategic importance, the East zone of the Côa River drew the attention of the Portuguese and Leonese crowns, evidenced by the support both gave to the Monastery of Santa Maria de Aguiar (near Castelo Rodrigo). Therefore, in the final quarter of the 12th century and throughout most of the 13th century, the Riba Côa territory to the East of this river was under Leonese rule.
It was not until Denis of Portugal ascended to the throne that the Portuguese crown seized Riba Côa. With the signing of the Treaty of Alciñes in 1297, Denis of Portugal was able to define the border that we maintain today. 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.
But the peace that Denis of Portugal secured would not last long without coming under threat. In 1383, the king Dom Ferdinand I of Portugal died without leaving behind any male heirs, throwing the country into a dynastic crisis. John I of Castile, married to Dona Beatrice (the only daughter from the marriage between Dom Ferdinand and Leonor Teles de Meneses) then began a series of military campaigns to take over Portugal through Castile. One of the most famous battles between the Castilians and Portuguese, the Battle of São Marcos, took place alongside the Historic Village of Trancoso, and the Portuguese won. This battle was the turning point for what would begin to define the destiny held in store for them at Aljubarrota.
With the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, the French would be the last people to invade the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal in pursuit of the Portuguese throne. Of the three invasions (1807-1808, 1809, and 1810-1811), the first and third penetrated the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal upon invasion and retreat. Three Historic Villages (Almeida, Sortelha, and Trancoso) were directly involved in this war. Battles that set the destiny of the Peninsular War erupted either in their defensive structures (as in the case of Almeida) or their surroundings.
It is easy to see why the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal holds many references and traces of such diverse peoples. A visit to this destination that is in fact 12 also offers an opportunity for us to get to know the roots of our own History.