The city of Guarda

Guarda: the five F’s, the cathedral’s backside and a beautiful guardian

With the winter and cold weather finally upon us, I am reminded of my trip to the city of Guarda, one of the coldest cities in Portugal and commonly known as the city of the five F’s – Forte, Fiel, Fria, Formosa and Farta.

The first F, “Forte”, stands for Strong. Remnants of castle walls and hefty towers stand reminiscent of a fortified city, the highest city in continental Portugal.

The city was founded during the 12th century by King Sancho I of Portugal with the intent of guarding and defending the kingdom’s border. Nicknamed “The Populator”, Guarda wasn’t the only land founded by the King as he created several new towns and villages during his reign.

The town served its purpose of safeguarding the frontier and is marked by several historic battles fought throughout the ages against neighbouring kingdoms; first the Kingdom of Léon, then Castile and ultimately Spain.

I decided to visit the city during the holidays with a friend from university who had grown up there and who wanted to show me her hometown. She lived on the outskirts of the city, so we started at the bottom and gradually began to make our way up to the very top where we stopped at the city’s cathedral. This is when she decided to point out a small statue protruding from the side of the cathedral, which immortalises the city’s historical relationship towards the country it borders.

The statue, representing someone’s naked backside whilst bent over, was erected and pointed at the border with the intent of provoking the neighbouring kingdom.

This leads to the second F, “Fiel”, which stands for Faithful. In 1383, King Fernando I of Portugal lay on his deathbed without a male heir, which is ironic as the King was popularly nicknamed “The Handsome”.

During the following years, Portugal entered a time of civil war without a reigning king, allowing the Crown of Castile to invade Portugal. During this time, Álvaro Gil Cabral, Bishop of Guarda, refused to hand the city over to the King of Castile and instead pledged his allegiance to King João I of Portugal, hence the Faithful. Ultimately, Portugal defeated the Kingdom of Castile during the Battle of Aljubarrota.

As already stated, Guarda is the highest city in continental Portugal, which brings us to the third F, “Frio”, which translates to Cold. Due to the high altitude of the city (1056 metres), it is one of the coldest cities in Portugal. Wrapped in coats and scarves, we eventually made our way up to the highest point of the city where we found the remnants of the castle upon its peak.

The city is marked by its historical importance and vital role in guarding the border, but it also harbours another legend that tells the story of a similar origin of the city’s name. According to the legend, the city was founded as a result of a battle between Alfonso III, King of Asturias, and the Moors. Alfonso III was the King of Léon, Galicia and Asturias from 866 up until his death. His reign was notable due to his numerous victories over the Moors and his success in consolidating his vast kingdom.

Following a battle and victory that took place upon the very grounds of what is known today as the city of Guarda, the King sought out the soldier that led the combat and defeated the enemy troops. To his surprise, the soldier turned out to be a beautiful maiden named Ana. She was in love with the King and had disguised herself as a soldier to follow him into battle. Moved by her beauty, the King ordered there be a castle built upon that very hill and Ana was to be the guardian of the newly-founded town, Guarda, which translates to Guardian.

Not only was Ana beautiful but so was the land that surrounded her, which brings us to the fourth F, “Formosa”, meaning Beauty. As the highest city of Portugal, its peak shares a 360° view of breath-taking landscapes filled with natural beauty.

Due to its rich abundance in momentous nature and all it has to offer, the fifth and final F is “Farta”, which ultimately means abundant.

The city was also known for its tuberculosis sanatorium which opened in 1881 due to Guarda’s favourable climate. In 1946, a patient named José Maria Pedrosa installed an internal radio transmitter within the sanatorium, which later aided in distracting patients during treatments. Rádio Altitude, as it is called, became Portugal’s first local radio station and later expanded from the sanatorium to the town, to the region and finally nationally, and is still going strong today.

Although the city has taken on several battles and conflicts throughout the ages, today’s Guarda is characterised by its serenity and pure fresh air and invites you to witness its historical city filled with solemn granite buildings and the richness of the Mondego valley.

By Jay Costa Owen
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Jay recently graduated from the Faculty of Fine Artes in Lisbon. Jay’s interests are exploring new cultures through photography and the myths, legends and history that define them. 

Remnants of castle walls and hefty towers
Solemn granite buildings
The city of Guarda