There are archeological evidences of human occupation in the region of Braga back to the Megalithic era. During the Iron Age, the Castro culture extended into the northwest, characterised by Bracari peoples who occupied the high grounds in strategically located fortified settlements (the castros). The region became the domain of the Callaici Bracarii a Celtic tribe who occupied a vast territoty in the north west of Iberia.
The Romans arrived in the region circa 136 BC; by the time of Emperor Augustus all the territory was conquered. The civitas of Bracara Augusta was founded in 20 BC in the context of the administrative reorganisation of the new provinces. The city of Bracara Augusta developed greatly during the 1st century and reached its maximum extension during the following 100 years. Towards the end of the 3rd century, Emperor Diocletianus promoted the city to the status of capital of the administrative area Conventus bracarensis, the south western area of the newly founded Roman province of Gallaecia.
Suevi invaded the Roman Empire and also the Iberia Peninsula and established their kingdoms during the beginning of the 5th century, Bracara remaining as the capital. In the 6th century Bishop Martin of Braga converted the Suebi from Arianism to Catholicism. At the time, Martin also founded an important monastery in Dumio (Dume), and it was in Braga that Archbishopric of Braga held their councils. Circa 585 the Visigoths conquered all Iberia and took control of Gallaecia, defeating the Suevi. With the Visigoths also came stable christianity practices and Braga claimed supremacy over the entire Hispanic church – which was not really accepted in certain areas. In 711 the Muslims invaded and conquered all the Iberia, with few exceptional areas far in the north; the so-called “Reconquest” began still during the 8th century and the territories to the Douro border were gained in the following centuries. Braga became the centre of political, religious a social reorganisation of these territories, under several Bishops but mainly under Bishop D. Pedro. Also it was of primary importance in the process of Portugal’s independence (mid-12th century).
Braga remained the centre of the Portuguese Church through the centuries even when the Portuguese political power moved to the south – first to Leiria and then to Lisboa – but the transition from the Midle Ages to the Modern times became a problematic process since the city was misplaced to take advantage of the maritime discoveries: it was too far from the Atlantic and other cities were able to better profit from the new source of revenues. Yet, Archbishop Diogo de Sousa was able to sponsor several urban improvements in the city: he expanded and remodelled the cathedral by adding a new chapel in the Manueline style; he generally pushed the mediaeval town into a Renaissance city by enlarging some streets, opening squares, etc.
Another period of significant changes occurred during the 18th century, when the archbishops contracted architects to modernise and reshape parts of the city. A series of architectural transformations (in churches and civic institutions) gave Braga a Baroque style. With the invasion of French troops, during the Peninsular Wars the city was relegated, once again, to a provincial status. By the second half of that century, with influence of Portuguese immigrants living in Brazil, new money and tastes resulted in improvements to architecture and infrastructures.
In the 20th century Braga faced similar periods of growth and decline; demographic and urban pressures, from urban-to-rural migration meant that the city's infrastructures had to be improved in order to satisfy greater demands. Emigration during the 1960’s was very significant, mainly form rural areas, draining young people to France and Germany among other destinations; on the other hand the new University that was funded in the 1970’s became a fundamental part of the city attracting many academics, students and business. Today Braga is a modern city, with all the services and facilities necessary for a pleasant and balanced way-of-living.
Roman Thermae of Maximinus
Roman Thermae of Maximinus were discovered in the 20th century. The thermae occupy 800 square metres in the civil parish of Cividade, and were built from the 1st to late 3rd centuries..
Arch of Porta Nova
Arch of Porta Nova/Rua de Souto, a Baroque and Neoclassical arch, designed by André Soares in the late 18th century, that decorates the western gate of a medieval wall. The original arch dates from 1512 and it was traditionally used to promote to visiting dignitaries and celebrities who arrive to the city of Braga.
Palace of the Falcões
Palace of the Falcões, a Baroque palace originally commissioned by Francisco de Meira Carrilho in 1703, and later (after successive renovations) used as the Civil Governor's residence.
Fountain of "Águas Férreas"
The original church was a Romanesque building, attached to the monastery founded by Mumadona Dias in the 10th century. Afterwards, a pre-Gothic church was erected, on the original building, but some parts of the Romanesque temple still remain visible from the cloister.
The main part of the actual structure dates from the 14th century. The remarkable window in the façade was offered by King John I, fulfilling a promise he had made before the battle of Aljubarrota. The Gothic style of this window makes a strong contrast with the granite walls that evoke the Romanesque period.
Hospital of São Marcos
The Hospital of São Marcos has a façade that is comparable to any religious monument in the city. The building is an example of the complex Baroque style of Carlos Amarante, featuring ornate double belfry and accents.
Tower of the Castle
The tower of the Castle of Braga was built during the reign of King Denis (13th century). It was part of the defensive system of the city and included a semi-circular walled enclosure centred on the Sé Cathedral. More recent are the tower of Santiago and part of the walls that were designed by the Portuguese Baroque master André Soares, based on a mixture of Gothic, Baroque and Rococo elements.
Cathedral of Braga
The Cathedral of Braga is a very interesting monument with elements dating from the Romanesque to the Neoclassical and others. It's central location in the city and it's importance in the History of Braga and Portugal, and being one og the most notable Portuguese Cathedrals, recommend an attentive visit.
There are a significative number of churches and chapels in Braga, many in Barroque and Neoclassical styles. All are worth visiting, but you may be interested in the following: Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Consolação; Chapel of Senhor do Bom Sucesso; Chapel of the Coimbras (a Manueline chapel, probably designed by Castillian architect Filipe Odarte, with sculptures attributed to Hodart, an altar by João de Ruão).
Chapel of São Frutuoso
The Chapel of São Frutuoso (also known as Montélios) is a pre-Romanesque chapel in the form of a Greek cross, forming part of group of religious buildings that include the Royal Church originally built by the Visigoths in the 7th century. It's located not far from the city and it's defenitively worth a visit.
Bom Jesus do Monte and Nossa Senhora do Sameiro
Outside Braga there are to major sanctuaries: Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte and Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora do Sameiro. Both date from the late 18th century. The first and it's reachable by trail or funicular and has a spectacular vue over the city.
In the North of the country it’s rather common to comment “You must be from Braga!” when someone enters a room and leaves the door open. The origin of this tradition might be found in the fact that Braga was on of the first cities in the country that ended the long-lasting habit of locking the wall-doors during the night. In the 16th century the Archbishop D. Diogo de Sousa order the demolishing of a particular section of the wall to open a new door (known as New Door – Porta Nova) – he wanted to connect Souto street and New street and to creat a new commercial area. As the period was of peace, D. Diogo never ordered the construction of a real door (in wood) and the “Porta Nova” remained as an open arch. Till today!
Every 5th of December Braga celebrates the day of Saint Geraldo, who was the first Archbishop of Braga.
During this day his chapel remains wide-open and the altar is profusely ornamented with fruits (not flowers). The origin of such tradition lays on a miracle that is remembered in a traditional legend: during a very cold winter, in the mountain of Bornes where he was with his family Saint Geraldo who was very old, became terribly ill with high fever... he asked to one of his family members to go and get some fruits to calm down his fever. They all looked at him astonished... there are no fruits, there is snow all arround, nothing to eat... maybe a few old chesnuts and that’s it, they said. But Saint Geraldo answerd, firmly:
- Go and look for it!
Someone barely open the door, because of the wind, the snow and the cold, but they could all see clearly that all the trees were heavy with beautiful fruits.
Bacalhau à Narcisa (Codfish Narcisa style)
You will need:
Codfish steaks (one per person); onions; olive oil; salt and pepper; paprika; sweet peppers; tomato; white wine; bay leaf; vinegar, flour, potatos.
Flour the codfish steaks and fry them in olive oil. Braise the onion slices in the olive oil where the cod was fried, and add the bay leaf, paprika, salt and some drops of vinegar; you may also add a small portion of tomato and some sweet peper and a bit of white wine. Place the fried cod in a tray and lay the onion sauce on top. Serve with crispy thick-round-sliced potato chips.
Papas de Sarrabulho (Blood porridge)
You will need:
1 chicken weighing about 3 kg.; 1,750 Kg meat from the thick flank; 1 Kg pork’s entrails (heart, lungs, kidney...); 1 spine bone (in the lack thereof 1 smoked gammon); 1 salpicão (smoked beef and pork sausage); 1 chunk of smoked ham; 0,5 Kg bacon; 1 blood sausage; 36 stale wheat breads (+/- 4 days); plenty cumin; salt; white pepper; crumbled boiled pig’s blood; “spice cloth” wrapped with spices: 3 Indian cloves, white/black pepper grains, nutmeg parsley, garlic, bay leaves, mint and peppermint.
The day before: Place all meats in one pot, and add the “spice cloth”, pour water until the meat is well immersed. Let it cook until the meat is tender enough to be shredded. Shred the meats in very thin shreds, and grind the entrails. Save the bones, the hen’s skin with some fat to boil with water to add to the stew if necessary. The boil must be strained to remove any bits of bones. Chop the breads in small pieces.
The day they will be served: Let the strained water boil. Add the chopped bread and stir with a wooden spoon. Whilst stirring, add the shredded meats and season with salt and add more pepper, if necessary. Let simmer for +/- 1 hour until it thickens and stir with a fork with long teeth so it does not gain any lumps. When the “soup” is thick, add the blood, whilst stirring and let it boil for a few seconds. To serve sprinkle the dish with cumin.