There are many curious people who discover the Historic Villages of Portugal and fall in love with their striking castles, walls, and landscapes every day. But who was the first person to visit this region?
History has it that Manuel I of Portugal appointed Duarte D’Armas, Royal House squire, to prepare what today would be a detailed report on the state of preservation of the fortresses along the border with Castile.
The border line of that period coincides with the current border line; therefore, we can imagine the difficulty of such a task. It was also 16th century Portugal, which had little more than a Roman-based network of roads in addition to a few Romanic and Gothic bridges.
But the challenge of covering 1,200 kilometers between Castro Marim and Caminha did not daunt Duarte D’Armas. On horseback and accompanied by his servant who went on foot, they left Lisbon for Castro Marim. From there (in the Spring of 1509), they covered most of the settlements with castles along the border to Caminha in nearly seven months. They visited 56 settlements or castles whose descriptions he organized in an exceptional, incomparable work that he concluded in March 1510.
Of the region of the Historic Villages of Portugal, Duarte D’Armas documented Almeida, Castelo Mendo, Castelo Rodrigo, Monsanto, and many surrounding settlements such as Sabugal, Penha Garcia, Idanha-a-Nova, or Penamacor.
Duarte D’Armas drew each settlement from two panoramic angles. He drew plants and described the fortresses. He even wrote in detail about the routes among the settlements, distances, main accesses, roads, and trails, including descriptions about the territory’s structure; waterways and their navigability; bridges; sources; crops; and military, civil, and other buildings.
Manuel I of Portugal’s squire did not entitle his work but it became known as the Book of Fortresses. Today, this incredible work is found in the National Archive of Torre do Tombo.
The Book of Fortresses is therefore the first travel guide for the Historic Villages of Portugal and other settlements on the Portuguese border. They do not cease to astound us to this day – just as they had astounded their first traveler, Duarte D’Armas.