The small town of Barcelos was once a Roman settlement. It became more prominent in the 15th century when the first Duke of Braganca took up residence there and built his palace. But it is perhaps best known as the birth-place of the gaudy ceramic rooster, the Galo de Barcelos, that has become a symbol of Portugal.
The myth of the rooster claims that a pilgrim was falsely accused of stealing. When he was caught and taken before a judge, who was preparing to eat a roasted rooster. The pilgrim was sentenced to hang, but claimed his innocence would be proven by the roasted roster, which would get up and crow. As the pilgrim was being hung, the bird crowed and the pilgrim was saved (whilst also being aided by St. James who held him up by the feet). Examples of the rooster can be found throughout the town and hundreds are for sale in the market.
Barcelos is only a 50-minute drive from Porto, so we decided to visit on a Thursday, when the centre of the town is transformed by a large open-air market (said to be the largest in Portugal). The market is loosely arranged so that similar types of products are all in the same section. The largest sections contain clothing stalls and vegetable stalls but the market has quite a variety of products for sale. These range from live animals (for food and pets) to furniture and include tools, kitchenware, handbags, shoes, horse riding tack, handicrafts, trees and plants.
But our favourite section of the market was where the pottery items were being sold. As well as the ubiquitous roosters, there was an amazing selection of cookware and tableware. Some of the items were touristy souvenirs of the town but there were some nice colourful plates and a lovely range of serving dishes. Many of these items were made to serve a specific purpose, such as serving olives or Calde Verde soup, storing bread or eggs, and many other uses. It was interesting to walk around the stalls and look at the various items.
After wandering around the market, we were getting hungry so we looked for a nearby restaurant. Not far away, we found the Restaurant Duque – a little place that offered a three-course lunch menu for €4 each! Amazing value!
With lunch taken care of, we wandered along the narrow lanes to visit the derelict Earl’s Palace, constructed between 1406-1412 for Afonso, Barcelo’s 8th earl. It was damaged in an earthquake and fell into disrepair between the 17th-18th centuries. In 1910, it was declared a national monument. A couple of azulejos on the wall of the palace give a glimpse of what it looked like whilst it was still intact.
The palace is now a shadow of its former glory, but it is still worth a visit. The grounds are open and there is no admission fee. Several of the walls have been demolished and the upper flooring is long gone, but some of the features remain. The single tall chimney rises up from a large fireplace in a second floor room (now visible from the room below). There are also some monuments and stone inscriptions within the grounds. There is a nice view over the bridge (built between 1325 and 1328) and the River Cávado. Adjacent to the palace is the 15th century pillory, set in a small, neatly landscaped area.
A 14th century church, dedicated to Santa Maria Maior, stands next to the palace. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit the inside as it was closed between 12.00pm to 3.00pm. Shame, as it apparently contains some nice azulejo tiles.
Next up was a visit to the Museu de Olaria (Museum of Pottery). Created in 1963, it was initially a museum of regional pottery but it has since expanded its scope to pottery from around Portugal. We were pleasantly surprised to find that admission was free and there was no restriction on taking photographs. The public exhibition is contained on the upper level of the two-storey building.
One of the museum’s exhibits features some of the brightly coloured, whimsical works of the pottery-making Baraça family from Barcelos. One of the more famous of these artisans was Ana Baraça, who began making clay roosters from the age of 7 and painted them in her distinctive style.
The second half of the museum provides an insight into the history of the pottery industry as well as a selection of plates, bowls and vases. It is an interesting little museum that is worth a visit.
Our final visit of the day was to the Igreja Bom Jesus da Cruz (Church of Good Jesus of the Cross). The church was built between 1705-1710, on the site of the ‘miraculous’ appearance of a black cross in 1504. The baroque exterior features bare stone and white walls, with a domed roof and bell tower. Inside, the impressive domed ceiling towers above the centre of the church and impressive gilded woodwork draw the eyes to the main altar and two side altars. Several of the internal walls are covered in blue and white azulejo tiles, depicting various religious scenes. Higher on the walls, on either side of the altar, are several panels with oil paintings. Together, they form an impressive sight. The left-side altar features an oak sculpture of Jesus, carrying a cross. A figure of Mary, with a sword piercing her heart, adorns the right-side altar. There is no admission fee to enter the church.
Having spent a few hours in the town, we hopped on the Goldwing and headed home. A nice small town that was worth a visit.