The town of Amarante occupies a beautiful location on the River Tâmega. There has been a settlement at the site since 4BC, and the Romans had a route connecting Amarante to Guimarães and Braga, so there may well have been a Roman bridge during that period. But the town didn’t gain any prominence until the late 12th century, with the arrival of a Catholic priest, turned Dominican friar, named Gonçalo
Gonçalo was instrumental in the construction of a stone bridge across the river. The current bridge and adjacent church now bear his name. He is alleged to have struck a rock with a stick, causing wine to flow from it for the construction workers building the bridge. He’s also said to have called out to the river, when the workers ran out of food, resulting in fish jumping onto the river bank to feed them. Whether these things happened or not, they resulted in Gonçalo being named a saint in 1561. His body is buried within the Church of Saint Gonçalo.
Gonçalo’s bridge collapsed in 1763, so the current bridge is an 18th century reconstruction (1790). It was instrumental in the defence of the town in 1809, when local heroes, led by General Silveirea, withstood an attack by Napolean’s troops, led by General Loison. They held off the French attack between 18th April and 2nd May. A bronze plaque commemorating this feat can be found attached to a pillar at the entrance to the bridge. The narrow, granite bridge is still open to vehicular traffic – but only in a single direction.
Several restaurants have taken advantage of the lovely views by building dining areas that jut out from the buildings, over the water. We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch at one of them, enjoying delicious Portuguese food along with the scenery.
An after-lunch stroll along the river banks allowed us to really enjoy the tranquil setting. Teenagers were enjoying the pedal-boats and fisherman were lazing along the river bank. Very pleasant.
Only a stones-throw from the river, in the former convent, is the Municipal Museum of Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso. Born in Amarante, Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso was an artist in the early 20th century who was particularly known for his cubist paintings. He spent time living and painting in Paris, where much of his art remains. But this small museum in Amarante has a permanent collection of some of his work and the admission fee is only €1.
In addition to the work of Souza-Cardoso, the museum features other works, as well as temporary exhibits. Between 23rd June and 16th September 2018, the temporary exhibit features Surrealism in Portugal. It is a small museum but has some interesting pieces on display. Unfortunately, as we reached the display of Souza-Cardoso’s work, a staff member informed me that photos are not permitted!
Before heading home, we popped into the Church of Saint Gonçalo. A mix of Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque architectural styles, construction of the church and monastery was commenced in 1543. There is a small chapel to the left of the main altar that appears to be the burial place of St. Gonçalo and there is a statue of him in another chapel to the right of the altar. There is nothing particularly outstanding about the interior, but it is worth a quick visit.
Located about 60km to the east, Amarante is an easy 45 minute drive from Porto, making it a very suitable spot for a day-trip. And a nice spot for lunch.