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            I got up uncharacteristically early this Sunday morning and got coffee and read about the Douro Valley wine region.  At noon I drove into Mesao Frio for Mass at São (san, a with a tilde followed by o is pronounced ahn) Nicolau church.  The ceiling is covered with 16th Century tiles each picturing a different Saint.  We checked out of the Pousada and drove eastwardly along the Douro river to Peso de Regua where all the port wine boats (photo) used to leave to carry their booty to Porto for aging (by law).  Now its done by truck and train.  We left the Douro and drove north (30 miles Marcia) to Vila Real (photo) and its near-by famous Casa de Mateus (photos).  This is the building that is pictured on the label of Mateus Rose bottles.  The gardens on the grounds are fabulous and there is a large tube like tunnel (photo) that is formed by cedar trees planted in 1941 (25 ft high and 115 ft long).  To keep it trimmed they have to use ladders that curve over the top.  You can walk down through the Cedar Tunnel (photo).  The same family still owns the place and lives there but not associated with Mateus Winery.

From there we drove (30 miles Marcia) through the mountains full of vineyards everywhere you looked (photo) to finally arrive at the pretty town of Amarante situated on Rio Tamega.  It was first settled in 360 BC and burned down by the French in 1809 in their attempt to take Portugal.  It is famous for São (san) Goncalo (gohn-sah-lo) who built a monastery and the bridge (Roman bridge collapsed) here in the 12th Century.  Because he started festivals to help woman find a husband he became the patron saint of matchmaking and fertility. The festival is still held in June and consists of praying for a partner, dancing and giving phallic-shaped cakes (maybe that is what that guy in San Sebastián was doing).  He is buried inside the Monastery and the face and foot of his effigy on the tomb is worn away by the embraces of those seeking a mate.  The bridge crosses the river right into the church.  I gathered up the nerve to climb the tower and get beautiful views of the town and river (photos).  After walking around awhile we stopped for fluids at one of the cafes that has balconies over the river.  Many people make use of the beach area and the peddle boats to go up and down the river.  This is what I call a very livable city.  As it was getting late we got back on the road and this time it was freeway for the 45 miles to Porto or as the English call it, Oporto.

When the Moors controlled most of lower Spain they also had the lower two-thirds of Portugal as well.  Alfonso VI, the King of Castilla gave title of the northern Portugal area (the Minho) to his Bastard daughter who married Henry of Burgundy.  Their son Afonso Henriques fought a war with his mother to take control and declared Portucale as an independent nation in 1139.  The two cities at the mouth of the Douro were Porto and Cale.  The region and later the whole nation was called Portucale.  Afonso moved the capital from Porto to Guimeráes and later it went to Coimbra in the center and finally wound up in Lisboa.  The Pope finally recognized the kingdom under Afonso III in 1179.  Spain tried many times to get this territory back and did in 1384 when Juan I of Castilla conquered it.  What saved them was the marriage of João (Jon) I to Phillipa of Lancaster, a relative of England's Edward III.  This started the long close relationship with England and why in later years, Lord Wellington fought the French here to prevent Napoleon from taking them over.

 

 

 

KJH                                                               Go To -> NEXT DIARIO #27 

Porto, Portugal

 

Kenneth J. Hoffer, MD

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