A common definition of heritage refers to a “special possession” and a legacy to be celebrated now and preserved for future generations. UNESCO works to encourage the recognition, protection and conservancy of natural and cultural heritage sites around the world. The main criteria for a site to be considered worthy of is their outstanding value to humanity.
For over 35 years Portugal has been an affiliate of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and there are 15 registered locations scattered across its landscape, both rural and urban. This is remarkable, especially given its size, but it’s no surprise as Portugal has long been revered for its beauty and cultural significance.
We’ve chosen 7 spectacular sites to give you a taste of what makes Portugal so special.
As a city Lisbon hits all the marks: it’s opulently attractive, has a multi-layered history and is positively bursting with things for visitors to see and do. Chief among the attractions are two UNESCO World Heritage monuments located in Belem on the Tagus River that stand as tributes to the Portuguese Age of Discovery. Often called “the jewel” and the penultimate symbol of the age, theJerónimos Monastery was built in homage to the discovery of a sea route to the Orient and its lush ornamentation is still considered the finest example of the exuberant style of Manueline art. Jutting into the river downstream, the Tower of Belem stands sentry for visitors to bask in its military architecture and the spectacular panoramas of the river.
As the summer residence of Portuguese royalty the town and cultural landscape of Sintrahas many magical charms that are well celebrated by more than just UNESCO. Tucked in lush forested hills, Sintra is still home to palaces, lavish estates and a Moorish castle that boasts staggering views across Lisbon. Blending local and exotic flowers and fauna, the town embodies a gorgeous combination of parks and gardens that has influenced landscape architecture around the globe.
The Historic Centre of Porto is a maze of winding streets and alleys that offer a glimpse into the city’s past as well as views of the Douro River. Its Praça da Ribeira is a wonderful spot to sit in and soak up the atmosphere while watching the world go by.
The smaller city of Guimarães has been a part of Portugal’s national identity since the 12thcentury. Its technical traditions and distinctive architecture illustrate the city’s progress and its integration into its surrounding landscape. It’s been named part of Heritage of Humanity and a European Capital of Culture due to its outstanding preservation and future-oriented policies.
The Alto Douro Wine Region has been a regulated wine producing area since 1756, the oldest of its kind. The wine produced today from its fertile land is recognized worldwide for its quality as well as a manifestation of the backbreaking evolution of winemaking. The landscape, both literal and ethnic, has been a crossing of cultures for centuries and has been carefully cultivated by countless generations to bring it to its current venerated position for legions of wine lovers to explore and enjoy.
In one of the loveliest, most gratifying cities in Portugal, the Historic Center of Evora is a circuit of medieval walls, 16thcentury palaces and mansions that are all under UNESCO protection. The cityscape offers a glimpse into understanding both the history and the culture of the country and its influence on the architecture of Portugal as well as further afield, such as Brazil.
Although it’s known more for sun seekers than culture vultures, the Algarve has its own version of historic places to visit. Albufeira might top the package-tour list but it has a very pretty picturesque old center with whitewashed buildings lining every narrow, twisting lane. If you want to escape the crowds altogether, make the trip to the beautiful Olhos de Agua beach to beat the heat and take respite in its sandy beach and lapping waves. There perfect destinations if you’re looking for a sunshine getaway at the last minute.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are universal and belong to every individual and Portugal has many truly “special possessions” waiting to be explored!