Visit Belmonte, Belmonte Castle, Manueline window and wooden cross

Belmonte what to visit in the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral

Belmonte, what to visit in this one of the Portuguese towns most related to the epic of the Discoveries. Located at the foot of Serra da Estrela, Belmonte, Portugal received its Charter from D. Sancho I, 2nd King of Portugal, in 1199. Pedro Álvares Cabral was born here in 1467 and where he spent his childhood, before setting off to discover new worlds.

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Belmonte Portugal and its History

Pedro Álvares Cabral, the Navigator, belonged to the family of the Alcaides de Belmonte and discovered Brazil in the XVth century.

It is impressive to report this discovery in the letter from Pero Vaz de Caminha, currently in Torre do Tombo.

The letter reads, a certain passage:

(April 22, 1500)

“And the following Wednesday, in the morning, we came across birds, which they call fura-buchos.

On this day, hours before, we had a view of the land!

First of all a big mountain,… On the high mountain the captain named Monte Pascoal and the land, Terra da Vera Cruz ”.

Monument to the Charter of Pero Vaz de Caminha
Monument to the Charter of Pero Vaz de Caminha

The great feast of Belmonte Portugal is on the 26th of April, the date of the first mass celebrated in the open in Brazil in the year 1500.

Statue of Pedro Álvares Cabral
Statue of Pedro Álvares Cabral

The priest who accompanied Cabral's fleet and who celebrated the aforementioned mass was Frei Henrique de Coimbra and is buried in Olivenca.

Belmonte Castle, what to visit

The Castle of Belmonte, Portugal was improved by several Kings, as a wall against Leonese and Castilian incursions.

Belmonte Castle Aerial View, Source DGCPSIPA Photo 00507203
Belmonte Castle Aerial View, Source DGCPSIPA Photo 00507203

The courage and loyalty to the Cabral family's Crown was recognized and Fernão Cabral, father of Pedro Álvares Cabral, was named hereditarily, the first Mayor de Belmonte, by D. Afonso V in 1466.

The Mayor was the governor of a town or village during the Middle Ages. It was a position held by a representative of the King who carried out military, administrative and judicial functions and reported directly to the King.

Castelo de Belmonte went through several transformations and Fernão Cabral ended up adapting this military building as a manor house and where the Cabral family started to reside.

Belmonte Castle, Manueline Window and Cruz de Pau
Belmonte Castle, Manueline Window and Cruz de Pau

There are still Roman remains in this village. The ruins of Centum Cellas are believed to have been the “Villa” of Lucius Caecilius and his descendants, a wealthy Roman citizen, who was engaged in the farming and tin dealer that abounded in this region.

Here he built his residence, in the middle of the Ist century A.C..

Tower of Centum Cellas, Source DGCPSIPA Photo 00000934
Tower of Centum Cellas, Source DGCPSIPA Photo 00000934

Starting the walk through Belmonte, we go to meet History as well as the Jewish Community.

In the Castle, a magnificent Manueline window and an imposing Cruz de Pau (Wood Cross), a replica of the one taken by Pedro Álvares Cabral and used in the first open-air mass celebrated in Brazil on April 26, 1500, stand out under the blue sky.

In the Castle Tower there are two flags hoisted, the Portuguese and the Brazilian.

When they realize it, whether Portuguese or Brazilians who pass by the Belmonte Castle, they are moved and let it show in the eyes that intertwine.

In Castelo de Belmonte we can still feel the importance of the Cabral family.

Entrance to Belmonte Castle
Entrance to Belmonte Castle

The Jewish community of Belmonte, what to visit and know

We walk through the streets to visit Belmonte and on the facades of their houses we discover the stories of the last “secret” Jews.

We were delighted with the places that welcomed the last crypto-Jewish community on the Iberian Peninsula.

The Jewish community of Belmonte has many peculiarities. At the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal and Spain, by the Inquisition, in the XVIth century, it forced those who lived here to leave the country or convert to Catholicism.

Some left, others were converted, still others, formally converted, kept their Jewish traditions and worship in secret within the family.

In Belmonte, a group of Jews isolated themselves from the rest of the country and continued their Jewish traditions, in secret, even though many countrymen knew this and kept it a secret.

In their homes they placed crosses to show their conversion, but some Jewish symbols remained unnoticed.

There are those who say that the descendants of the Portuguese and Spanish Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism, against their will, would be called Marranos, for not eating pork. Etymologically it is a term similar to that used in the Alentejo to designate a new sow, the “marrã”.

9-arm chandelier
9-arm chandelier

The Marranos de Belmonte managed to maintain their traditions until today, being an unusual case of a crypto-Jewish community, installed here for over 500 years.

In 1970, the Jewish community established contact with Israel and made its existence official.

Bet Eliahu Synagogue
Bet Eliahu Synagogue

In 2005, the Jewish Museum of Belmonte, Portugal, was opened, which shows the traditions and the way of life of the Jewish Community.

Church of Santiago de Belmonte and Pantheon of Cabrais

In Belmonte, what to visit cannot fail to be the Pantheon of the Cabral family.

In the Church of Santiago, we find the tombs of the Cabral family, flanked by beautiful murals.

The Church of Santiago and the Pantheon of Cabrais form a group classified as a National Monument.

Its construction is thought to have been built in 1240 by Dª. Maria Gil Cabral who built the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade on the spot.

Around 1433 the Capela dos Cabrais was built by the parents of Pedro Álvares Cabral and attached to the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Piedade.

Santiago Church
Santiago Church

As the Chapel is located on one of the Portuguese pilgrimage paths to Compostela, its name became known as Igreja de Santiago, a place where Pilgrims found spiritual comfort during their journey.

Mural with Our Lady, Saint James and Saint Peter
Mural with Our Lady, Saint James and Saint Peter

Of the various frescoes, there is a triptych whose origin seems to date back to the year 1500, where Nossa Senhora, São Tiago and São Pedro appear.

Several hypotheses have been raised, some popular and some erudite, which question whether the image of Our Lady is not that of Our Lady of Hope who accompanied Álvares Cabral to Brazil.

Also the image of Saint Peter may be an allegorical painting that was used at the time. Thus, Saint Peter could be the image of Pedro Álvares Cabral himself, since the Apostle Peter would not be the object of great cult in these lands.

In fact, at that time it was relatively common to paint a historical personality, using the image of a saint with the same name. An image that thus becomes enigmatic, as it would eventually intend to honor or fulfill a promise referring to the discovery of Terra de Vera Cruz.

Cabrais Pantheon in Cabrais Chapel
Cabrais Pantheon in Cabrais Chapel

Discovering the Legend of Belmonte, Portugal

Among the legends that exist for these lands, one of them stands out, the Legend of Cabra and Cabrito.

In a shepherd's dream three nights in a row the voice said "Go to Bethlehem, your good is there".

And the shepherd went day and night looking for Bethlehem and ended up finding a buried treasure under a stone. From there he took a goat and a kid, in solid gold.

He hastened to report the discovery to his King, who asked if he wanted the goat or the kid.

His Highness's choice was for the kid, as it would be a better snack.

When he realized that the goat was not made of flesh and blood, but made of gold, the King praised the shepherd's cleverness and he then offered the goat as well. In recognition of such valuable offerings, the King ordered that all that could be seen from the top of the Belmonte mountain be given to the shepherd.

Thus was born the village and the landlord of Cabrais, in whose family coat of arms the goat and the goat are represented.

Coat of arms of the Cabral family, with goat and kid
Coat of arms of the Cabral family, with goat and kid

Discoveries Museum

What you cannot miss in Belmonte is the Discovery Museum of the New World or Discoveries Museum.

Belmonte Discoveries Museum
Belmonte Discoveries Museum

The Museum was opened in 2009 and installed in the old houses belonging to the family of Pedro Álvares Cabral. It has 16 rooms that very well illustrate the epic of the discoveries and where we easily get lost and found again, as the interactive modules take us to navigate in Caravelas, trying to reach sheltered places, reliving those times.

It is an Interpretive Center that honors an important chapter in world history, the Portuguese maritime discoveries, as a unifying element of the New Worlds.

It involves visitors in a world of dreams, sensations and affections.

Until we get to the new colors, sounds and people!

View the locations using the Ctrl + Scroll option to zoom in on the satellite image.

Belmonte Castle in a short video.

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