Barcelos Portugal is a quiet and charming town famous for an iconic and decorative cockerel. One which happens to be the (unofficial) symbol of Portugal and something you’ll find excessively throughout tourist hotspots and shopfronts.
The roosters origins and actual tale however plays out quite like a novella. The story is based on a falsely accused Galician man who was caught while on a pilgrimage. To further declare his innocence he demanded to personally see the judge who condemned him. The authorities agreed to his request and brought him forward to the judge, who was entertaining guests. The falsely accused pointed to a roasted bird on the table and exclaimed, “It is as certain that I am innocent as it is certain that this rooster will crow when they hang me”. The judge ignored his plea and the man was sent to be hanged. While he was tied at the gallows the roasted bird rose and crowded, thus proving his innocence.
Quite the colourful story; one which is as vibrant as the emblem itself.
While Barcelos wasn’t the first stop during my stay in Portugal, it happened to the most memorable. It was a day of great laughter and much excitement. My first encounter with Portugal’s infamously heart-attack inducing Francesinha and a bazaar breastfeeding horned demon sculpture. This town is undeniably rich in culture and a hub for abstract artists and sculptors. And has a wonderfully resplendent way of bringing out your playful inner child.
Of course those readers familiar with Nandos, will also recognise and associate these roosters to the restaurant chain. And you’re certainly not wrong. Barcelos is the town which has inspired their logo slash mascot. With such a vibrant and decorative icon it comes as no surprise that the town is teaming with random artistic creations. Dotted haphazardly throughout the main squares and around town itself, one will find numerous giant roosters as well as copious modern interpretations of the infamous legend. Looking back on my photographs, it’s like a game of “where’s the Barcelos rooster”, having nearly the majority of my images (delightfully) photobombed by these vivid creations.
Paco Dos Condes
What was once a majestic and grand castle erected in the early fifteenth century is now nothing more than a pitiful crumbling facade. Having succumbed to earthquakes and abandonment over time, what is left standing today still holds an extraordinary sense of poise and illustriousness. Those with vivid imaginations will have no trouble envisioning such nobility. One which stands high atop a hill overlooking the Cavado River and a place where actual Kings and Queens called home. There is also an artists impression illustrated on another of Portugal’s icons, the azulejo tile, of what the castle looked like centuries ago. Conveniently right above the plaque which narrates the infamous cockerel tale in full.
In a time where nature was greater than man, this must have been a remarkable site to behold. Its outer shell and missing walls evident of such statements. While these are very much ruins, there are still numerous stone works strewn throughout. The interiors still house a small section of azulejos and stone emblems; all free and open for perusal. Seemingly such a place happened to be a make-out spot for some hormonal driven locals (yes, just my luck). Needless to say it was overly awkward attempting browse with two canoodling teens in one corner. And with neither party refusing to depart, it definitely hindered how much actual time we managed to spend here.
Much like the rest of Northern Portugal, this quaint but important town is brimming with character and history. From the dilapidated castle to the numerous architectural delights and grandeur, there is never a dull moment. Especially when the streets are lined with oversized sculptural roosters. And stores brimming with said pieces that you can take back home with you. For me the Tower of Barcelos housed the best views of town, with its unobstructed 360 degree views of tiled apartment blocks and mountainous landscape. And not to forget the Church of Senhor Bom Jesus de Cruz which is in full view from above. Best of all while you’re on your way up to the roof, there are floors housing even more miniature rooster sculptures. You know, in case you have not yet had your fill. Something that you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in an old architectural relic and yet a gallery dedicated to the Barcelos rooster makes complete sense.
This is actually a town I am somewhat familiar with having traipsed through its streets on numerous occasions. And yet it was so much more than that bustling mini metropolis of monotoned tiled apartment complexes I’d been so accustomed to seeing. More than the millennial pink azulejo clad residences that line and guard the roadways. And more than the religious tourist hot spot of Bom Jesus and Sameiro. This is a town coated in culture, manicured gardens and grand entranceways. Of communal squares overflowing with conversing peoples and narrow laneways with hidden sculptures and stain-glass delights. And a town with philosophical ramblings for street art.
Braga was a town which unexpectedly surprised and delighted at every single turn. Truly, a most unanticipated discovery teeming with opulent architecture and flair. While most of these architectural delights were forgotten residences with only their lavish facades remaining, they were still a marvel to encounter.
Rua Dos Arcos
This is not it’s actual name, and not one shared by locals either, but one coined by my late grandfather.
This is a laneway slash piece of architecture that left quite the impression on him years ago. By chance I learned of the tale from my mother who said he always spoke fondly of this place. He was irrevocably enamoured with a stretch of road he dubbed “a rua dos arcos (laneway of arches)”. One he happened by chance while on errand to a nearby church to collect a bell for the construction of his own villages church. So smitten he was that every time he found himself in need to return to Braga, he’d stubbornly insisted on passing through this place.
To be honest, we weren’t entirely sure of its existence nor how we’d even stumble upon such a place. It took us time, much meandering and a few conversations with the locals attempting to locate this place until we found it. Or at least something that felt remotely close. Though we were almost certain this was the right spot considering we passed through a stain-glass archway on our way here (something that he happened to mention in his story). When I first heard this tale I knew I wanted to locate this spot. Having not grown up with my grandfather and a language barrier that separated us, I’ve been yearning to feel more connected. As a man renowned by those around him for his writing, storytelling and artistic carpentry it is fascinating to see what and how he found inspiration. After setting eyes on this building there is no doubt he draw inspiration from it. And no surprise that this block of architecture with its rows upon rows of stone arches topped with filigree ironwork completely enthralled him.
Also known as Casa do Mexicano or more appropriately, the purple/blue palace is unmistakable with it’s opulent Baroque architecture and vibrantly colour coded facade. Built in the seventeenth century as a private residence, today remains standing and housed as a medical and religious paraphernalia museum. The exuberance doesn’t cease on the outside. Inside you’ll find a grand stone staircase and painted ceilings and walls with various murals. This was relatively difficult to find, especially via car with its narrow one way streets. This is best trekked on foot and definitely worth the hassle. This is just a beautiful and unique take on Baroque architecture and the museum inside is worth a visit as it snakes you through many interior rooms.
Braga is still one of my favourite towns, more so after such an intimate and emotional experience wandering through its centre. This isn’t a town that you’ll find recommendations for nor would it be considered a tourist hot spot. But this is still a city you’ll want to visit if you want to encounter a different side of Portugal. One rich with culture and architecture but minus the usual tourist fanfare.