Every year in July, Óbidos stages its Medieval Market – a pretext to discover and explore this picture-perfect town surrounded by its castle walls. Lying some 80 km north of Lisbon, this popular tourist destination is one of Portugal’s oldest and best conserved medieval towns, recently crowned as one of the country’s Seven Wonders.
Merchants, jugglers, jesters, musicians, wrestlers, nobles, beggars and craftsmen come together every July in Óbidos to relive the past of the town conquered by the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, from the Moors in the 12th century. This year the Medieval Market, already in its 10th edition, is being held between 7 and 24 July (from Thursday to Sunday) and promises, once again, to take you back in time. The event turns the town into a medieval stage and you can sample many experiences such as shopping at traditional stalls, tasting medieval delicacies while dressed in period costumes, watching displays of falconry, shows of medieval music and dances, displays of jousting knights and the devilish pranks of jesters, minstrels and acrobats. For those keen on intensifying the experience you can spend the night in the rustic dwellings of the Medieval Camp – set outside the Pousada de Óbidos (further information at here). The main events take place in the afternoons and evenings, but these do not preclude a morning visit to one of the most beautiful and lively Portuguese towns.
For many years the bells chimed in Óbidos on every 11 January. The date marked the celebration of King Afonso Henriques‘s victory over the Moors in 1148, when the town was conquered for the new Kingdom of Portugal. Almost nine centuries have passed since that historic occasion and the town’s most coveted building in those days is still standing: the castle. Originally an Arab fortification, it was recently voted as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, and is nowadays home to the first and one of the most magnificent Pousadas (traditional and historical hotels) in the country. The fortified wall that encircles the town – offering protection to its white houses decorated with bougainvillea and geraniums – starts at the castle, and can be (and should be) walked in its entirety.
From the top of its walls, from any perspective, the architectural harmony of the town is quite evident: it seems to have been created in a single stoke for the delight of its visitors. But of course it was not. Óbidos is a genuine place which took centuries to reach the picture-perfect stage the visitor sees now. Improvements and additions have mostly been the undertaking of the Crown, from which it received large donations, and its patronage over the centuries can be seen in the abundance of noble buildings, both religious and civilian. Two of its most prominent constructions are the aqueduct commissioned in the 16th century by Catherine of Austria (Queen Consort of King João III), and the Church of Santa Maria, with its altarpiece painted by Josefa de Óbidos (one of the few female painters active during the baroque period) and its walls lined with magnificent 17th century azulejos (tiles). Óbidos became closely associated to several of Portugal’s queens and is known colloquially as the “Vila das Rainhas” (queens’ town).
If Óbidos courts us with the wealth of its history, it can also captivate us with the vitality of the present. Besides the Medieval Market, it hosts a variety of other cultural events throughout the year, such as the International Chocolate Festival and the Óbidos Vila Natal (Christmas Town). Its car-free winding, narrow streets are brimming with life and have plenty to offer. On Rua Direita, the town’s high street, craftsmen work in their workshops open to visitors and shopkeepers sell regional embroideries, painted roof tiles and the quite unique verguinhas, a piece in ceramics that reproduces the baskets in wicker which were common to transport fruit and vegetables in. To top it all there is still the traditional ginjinha – the Morello cherry liqueur, which may or may not be served in chocolate glasses, which is produced by Frutóbidos and Oppidum from cherries grown in the region and with no colouring or preservatives. This aromatic liqueur provided warmth to both body and soul of its first makers – the Benedictine monks of the Order of Cistercians – it has brought inspiration to artists like Josefa de Óbidos, was mentioned by Amália in the fado “A Tendinha”, and also serves as a good excuse to socialise with friends and family or even other visitors to this beautiful open-air museum that is Óbidos.