Monsanto, the most Portuguese village

Sara Rodriguez Romo | Live the World

September 19, 2022

Monsanto (which means “sacred mount”) is a village located on a very rocky hill, near the border with Spain. It belongs to Idanha-a-Nova, the Castelo Branco district. The village is entirely built on rocks, around them, underneath them… And the result is quite amazing! From the village, if you take a shepherds’ trail, you will reach the castle. Once very impressive, its remains are still hauntingly beautiful, with a never-ending view.

The history of Monsanto

According to legends, the Celtics have lived already there and then followed the Romans - however, there are only legends about them, not archaeological facts. Then, the Visigoths came: around the Chapel of São Miguel (nowadays in ruins), there are typical tombs from this time. They were carved in the pure granite, in the shape of a human body. I would not go there at night!

© iStock / Estellez

Like most of the border villages, it once belonged to a military order. First, the Templars, who built the castle in the XIIth century. But it did not last long in their hands. After them came the Santiago Order, and then the Portuguese King took over the village. Many times, Monsanto suffered wars and reconstructions because it was located at the border. Eventually, it turned out to be a huge castle with a homage tower. Unfortunately, a lightning-bolt destroyed the munitions dump. 

© iStock / andremarinst

After the explosion, some rocks from the mountain fell and tear down most of the castle and its walls. Nevertheless, a lot was preserved, and it is still worth a visit: its combination of huge stones with military architecture is unique!

The most Portuguese village

In 1938, Monsanto won a national contest: it was declared “the most Portuguese village.” The price was a silver rooster (the Portuguese icon). A copy of it has been kept on the top of the Lucano tower.

The village nowadays

Festival of the Crosses & the legend behind

Monsanto is ideal for a walk. Long or short, you decide: the village is located on a crossroad of two GR (the long routes that cross Europe). Inside this cozy village, the views are always amazing, and it feels like the time has stopped here. Walking around its ageless houses, you can believe that the local (pagan?) legend is actually real. It goes like this: at some point, under a siege (against the Romans? The Moorish? The Spanish? lots of versions!), the inhabitants of Monsanto were only left with a slim cow and some wheat to eat. They were starving, but a woman came up with a brilliant idea: they fed the wheat to the cow so that she would gain weight, and they threw her down from the city walls as if they had so much food inside, that they could spare a whole cow. The enemies, seeing this, decided not to hold the siege any longer and left. 

© iStock / RolfSt

In Monsanto, they commemorate this episode every May the 3rd. It is known as the 'Festival of the Crosses' and is actually a very popular festival in places with Celtic past. In this village, they make dolls with flowery dresses, and as a reminder of this episode, from the castle, they throw … no, not cows! Something more civilized: buckets painted in white! 

© iStock / Rui T Guedes

Even though Monsanto is a bit far away from the bigger cities, that only makes it more charming and authentic. After all… how could you come to Portugal and not visit its most Portuguese village?

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