Barcelos is a small and pleasant city. There is a controversy re: its age. Some say it has existed since the Palaeolithic Era and was an important town under the Romans. Others say Barcelos only came into existence at the same time as Portugal. There is also controversy over its name. Some say it derives from "Barca-Celani", the old name for the Cávado river. Others say it derives from "barcela" which means "riverside and flat lands". Whatever, Barcelos today is the largest municipality in Portugal. It has 89 parishes and lives by agriculture, industry, culture and tourism. It was already a town in the 15th century and was important to travellers. The College (founded by the Archbishop of Braga), the Jewish community; civil and religious life all contributed to its fame. Not least the Fair of Barcelos, which is the largest fair in Minho.
After crossing the old bridge over the River Cávado, we enter into one of the most emblematic cities of popular Minho art, Barcelos. Barcelos is an ancient city, situated in an area that has archaeological remains dating back to prehistoric times, although it was really in the 12th century that its history began, first when D. Afonso Henriques granted the settlement a charter and turned it into a town, and then later, in 1298, when D. Dinis rewarded his chief steward by making him a count and giving him the town as part of his title. In 1385, the Constable Nuno Álvares Pereira became the seventh Count of Barcelos. He then gave Barcelos as a dowry in the marriage of his daughter D. Beatriz to D. Afonso, the bastard son of D. João I. There then followed a period of great development and dynamic growth for Barcelos, displayed by the building of the bridge, the city walls, of which there still remains the Torre da Porta Nova, the Paço dos Duques and the Igreja Matriz. It is these monuments that today form the city s historic centre, which still retains a pleasant mediaeval atmosphere and amidst which are scattered manor houses and other historic residences, such as the Solar dos Pinheiros or the Constable´s House. A stroll around Barcelos must necessarily include the old fairground, now known as the Campo da República, where you will find the 18th-century churches of Bom Jesus da Cruz and Nossa Senhora do Terço and where Portugal s largest handicraft fair is held every Thursday. If you miss the weekly market, you should definitely visit the Ceramics Museum and Barcelos Handicraft Centre, where you can get a good general view of Minho arts and crafts. The brightly-coloured Barcelos Cock is the most representative of all the pieces produced here, but one should not forget the brass bands and the figures depicting the region´s customs and habits. On the banks of the river Cávado, Barcelos offers the happy and warm welcome characteristic of the Minho region. If you re into popular festivals and celebrations - the Festa das Cruzes (Festival of Crosses) plunges you into the lights and colours of local tradition. For market lovers, every Thursday Barcelos becomes a centre for traders selling everything from jewellery, clothing, tools, pottery and inevitably, good food and vegetables. You ll also be impressed by the colourful and imaginative local handicrafts. The town was bestowed by King Dinis on the first Count of Barcelos in 1298. Should you arrive by the Gothic bridge, you ll see before you the ruins of the medieval centre; the imposing former Count s palace, later belonging to the Dukes of Bragança, the Matrix church and the pillory. The Terreiro do Paço square is home to an interesting open-air Archaeological Museum, while the Senhor do Galo Cross, (Lord of the Cock), also deserves special attention, with its depiction of the legend of the Cockerel that Barcelos adopted as its symbol. At the Pinheiros Noble Residence, look out for the old man with long beard engraved into the stone. This is Barbadão (beardy), swearing revenge against a noble at the Ducal Palace who had dishonoured his daughter. Of the old walls, only a robust keep has fully survived and is now an ideal location for the local Tourism Office. Take a walk through the pleasant, Baroque inspired garden and visit the Church of Senhor Bom Jesus da Cruz. This most elegant place of worship manages to blend the dark tones of granite with the whiteness of chalk in full harmony with the Baroque decoration.