Braga is a city of 170,000 inhabitants, located in the north of Portugal, about 50 km from Porto, and a short distance from Guimarães. The city is one of the oldest in the nation, it was in fact founded by the Romans with the name of Bracara Augusta.
In 715 it was occupied by the Arabs. Conquered by the Christians in 1040, it became important already in the Middle Ages. In 1070 it was raised to a bishopric and then between 1093 and 1147 it was the residence of the Portuguese court. From the twelfth century it became an archiepiscopal seat with jurisdiction over a large part of the Iberian peninsula.
In the eighteenth century, thanks to the power of the church, it was the main center of Baroque art in Portugal, so much so that it was called Portuguese Rome.
WHAT TO SEE: THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF BRAGA
The center of the city is represented by the Praça Municipal (Municipal square) and the park of the Jardim de Santa Bárbara. The remarkable Episcopal palace (Paço Episcopal), finished in the 18th century, overlooks the Jardim de Santa Bárbara. This building was the ancient archiepiscopal seat, and today it is the seat of the municipal library, which is one of the most important in Portugal, and of the Regional Museum of Archeology D. Diogo de Sousa. Not far away is the Renaissance church of Mercy.
The most interesting building in the historic center is the Sé (cathedral), whose construction began in the 12th century. The church is composed of a central building and several chapels, which present a mixture of different styles, from Romanesque, to Gothic, to Manueline decorations. The central and southern portal are Romanesque, the apse is from the 16th century. The baptismal font and the tomb of the infant Afonso are instead in Manueline style. Among the chapels, which are accessed through the cloister, the Dos Reis chapel and the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Gloria are interesting.
The western edge of the historic center is delimited by the Arco da Porta Nova, an eighteenth-century arch that allowed entry into the city. Of the ancient castle and the city walls, destroyed in 1906, only the Torre de Menagem (XIV century) remains. Other interesting places in the historic center are the Fonte do Ídolo, a Roman fountain from the 1st century AD. The churches of Santa Eulália, São Sebastião, São João do Souto and the Coimbras chapel. Also worth a look is the Baroque Town Hall (18th century). Finally interesting is also the Palácio do Raio (XVIII century) in Baroque style with a richly decorated facade. Braga is home to one of Portugal’s most prestigious universities, the Universidade do Minho.
Among the museums worth mentioning: the Palácio dos Biscaínhos which houses the Ethnographic and Artistic Museum. While the Pius XII Museum is dedicated to sacred art. Finally, the Regional Museum of Archeology D. Diogo de Sousa is also of some interest.
SOME FAMOUS SANCTUARIES
To complete the visit it is necessary to leave the historic center and visit at least one of the three famous sanctuaries that surround the city: the Sanctuary do Bom Jesus do Monte (1784-1811), probably the most famous, is one of the first neoclassical buildings in Portugal. This sanctuary is located 5 km from Braga, and can be reached by a funicular or by a very long staircase, the famous Escadaria do Bom Jesus. The other two sacred places to visit are the Santuario do Salmeiro (19th century) and the church of Santa Maria da Falperra, a Baroque from the 18th century.