Prepared to be shocked, but when I was a kid, I was a bit of a nerd. One of my favorite series of books was a collection by David Macaulay with specific titles like Castle, Pyramid, Cathedral. I suspect if one were to look through the records of the library at Lockwood Elementary and Middle School, s/he would see that I still hold the record for checking those titles out the most. I can almost certainly still draw one of the cathedral images from Cathedral from memory, as the books had that powerful a hold on my imagination.
During my travels, though, I have been a bit underwhelmed by the castles I have seen. They have been too modern, too false-looking, or too run down to generate the sense of grandeur that Macaulay’s books (and a few fantasy novels) inspired. While I have certainly enjoyed wandering through castles and ruins of castles across Europe, none have moved me quite as much as I would have guessed.
The castle at Guimarães was absolutely perfect, though. The city, known as the cradle of Portuguese nationhood, is an absolute wonder to visit, with an excellent museum, lovely town square, and the imposing castle at the top of the hill overlooking the city. Given my policy of not looking at images of cities before I visit, I was wholly unprepared for the city and its castle.
While the building has been heavily restored, elements of it feel like the original structure built in the 10th century to defend the are from the Moors and Vikings, while the interior of the castle has the feeling of a castle from the late Middle Ages. The banquet hall conveys the majesty of castles I imagined as a kid, and the small touches like the restored bedrooms suggest the combination of luxury and harshness of life one imagines someone dwelling in the castle would have endured.
When I was entranced by the idea of castles and cathedrals as a young kid back in Lockwood Elementary, I never imagined that I’d ever actually see one. Books offered an escape for a kid who’d never been on a trip farther away than South Dakota or British Columbia, but the thought of actually having the ability to see them just wasn’t in my view of the world for someone like me. The amazing thing is that the sense of wonder I felt back then imagining massive structures of stone and human ingenuity might just have been matched by the wonder and joy I felt wandering around as a slightly more jaded fellow a few decades later.
I will update with some better photographs later. Wi-Fi has been as awful as Portugal has been wonderful.