According to some explanations, the city s name derived from the Roman term "viso", which means a good view, and in fact from its highest point, where the original settlement was formed in Roman times, Viseu offers its visitors some quite magnificent panoramic views.
One of the most interesting features remaining from this period is to be found in the city s outskirts and is known as the Cava de Viriato (an embankment which must date from between the second and the first century BC). This is the largest monument from this period in the Iberian Peninsula, although it has not yet been totally uncovered, and it is thought to have been a fortress where the remarkable warrior Viriatus, the chief of the Lusitanians and the heroic leader of the rebellion against Roman occupation, entrenched himself for defensive purposes.
In the twelfth century, the city was granted a charter for a free fair, which is still held today in August and September. This is known as the Fair of São Mateus and is one of the city s main events.
The city has a number of green and leafy parks and is very cool and pleasant, yet it also preserves a rich heritage in terms of monuments, amongst which the highlights are the cathedral and the Misericórdia church.
It was in Viseu that one of the most important Portuguese artists was born in the sixteenth century, Vasco Fernandes, who came to be known as Grão Vasco (the Great Vasco) and founded an important school of painting here. Many of his own paintings can be admired in the local museum which bears his name.
Viseu is located in the centre of a demarcated wine region that has taken the name of the river passing through it - Dão. It is an area that produces reds and whites of exceptional quality, ideal accompaniments for the region s excellent cuisine, with a special mention being reserved for the roast veal cooked in the Lafões style.
Viseu is a city of contrasts, featuring history and memory along with modernity and greenery - a perfect balance for those seeking quality of life.
Viseu is a city that is just the right size to be comfortably explored.
Begin in Rossio, a broad square in the centre of the city with imposing linden trees and a tile panel. Head up towards the historic centre through the gateways in the medieval city walls, either the Porta do Soar or the Arco dos Melos.
Continue to the Se churchyard, one of the most beautiful squares in Portugal with its surrounding architectural beauty.
Make sure you visit the upper Cathedral cloister and its Museum of Religious Art, displaying the Se s collection.
Another imposing granite building is now the Grão Vasco Museum, where there is an exceptional collection covering the history of Portuguese painting.
In front of the Cathedral, the elegant, white 18th century Rocaille façade of the Church of Misericórdia provides a touch of lightness to the otherwise granite solemnity of the churchyard.
Walking the surrounding streets and squares reveals some impressive residences including the House of Miradouro, with its magnificent twinned Manueline window, painted façades and the imposing statue of king Duarte in the square named after him.
On one crossroads stands a fifteenth century residence with symbols revealing its past as the first Jewish synagogue in Viseu. If you are here, then you are also right by the House of Viscondessa de Treixedo built during the 16th to 18th centuries.
Finish your stroll at the well-known Rua das Tendas and let the medieval ambience take you back even while the shop displays remind you of very much more current interests.
In the shadow of the cathedral, old houses, narrow streets and doorways with coats of arms carved in granite make up the ancient town of Viseu.
Portugal s oldest hero, Viriato, a Lusitanian chieftain, drove the Roman legions from the mountains that surround Viseu. This is commemorated in a statue in the Cava de Viriato (Viriato s ditch), an archaeological site outside the town. The hub of Viseu is around the cathedral square where there are several things of interest. Start with the cathedral s original vaulted ceiling, secured by stone ropes and knots. You can see paintings by the famous artist Vasco Fernandes (known as Grão Vasco) in the museum named after him. The nearby Church of the Misericórdia is famous for the rocaille style façade and its beautiful cloisters. Ironically, the town is full of art relating to the Portuguese Discoveries, even though it s so far from the sea.
Wander through the streets where Prince Henry the Navigator lived, who was also the Duke of Viseu. In Rua Escura, Gothic gargoyles peer out from 16th Century houses. Walk on the centuries old granite flagstones in the twisting Rua Direita, now a busy commercial street.
The Quatro Esquinas (Four Corners) is a crossroads leading to some interesting sites in the city. You can visit the remains of the Viseu Palace, birthplace of King Duarte, brother of Prince Henry the Navigator. Further on is the Porta do Soar, a gateway in the ancient city wall. From here, another street opens out into the city s sitting room. This is the main square known as the Praça do Rossio, where you can sit and relax under shady lime trees.
The mountain air, fine wines of the region and its famous cuisine will make your visit to the city of Viseu a memorable one.