Monday, June 20, 2011

Münzer on the Road: Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela: Dec. 4-13, 1494

The 2nd of December, leaving the illustrious and glorious Lisbon after eating, then to proceed five leagues along the sea, we arrived at the town of Alberca, very late at night. Rising in the morning and traveling without rest for nine leagues, we arrived at the city of Santarem. Oh, how truly fertile and green is this entire place, in wine of the best class, oil, and other produce!
On December 4, leaving Santarém and passing through some delightful places, we arrived after eight leagues at the city of Tomar, famous for its gigantic olives and its extensive olive groves, and by a river—an insignificant one—that consists mostly of a spring with cold water that nourishes trout. It has an attractive castle, richly adorned by the Prince don Enrique, discoverer of the Islands, who passed most of his life here.
On the 5th, after our meal, leaving Tomar, traveling on the road for twelve leagues, riding hard by moonlight, we arrived at Coimbra, situated on a beautiful mountain and on a plain, crossed by the Mondego river, with its famous bridge and abundant olive trees.
On the 6th, when we finished dining, leaving Coimbra through fertile places and countryside, in two days we arrived at the famous and very old city of Oporto, which is situated in the foothills of a very high mountain. Its territory is watered by the very famous Duero River; as abundant there as the Rhine by Basle. It is a bishopric that is fertile and very ancient. It is a league from the sea, and in times of rising tides, the great ships arrive at the city walls, which are of very old, square-cut stone. Oporto is older than Lisbon., a great city constructed on a mountain and its surroundings, adorned with very old houses in the lowest part. It belongs to the bishopric of Coimbra. There would be a great deal to write about this place, but I omit it thanks to brevity. After Lisbon, it is the most eminent city in Portugal. It is eighteen leagues from Coimbra.
On the 9th, we left Oporto and arrived at the little town called Barcelos, which is situated on a mountain. Its walls are skirted by a very famous river, which comes from Braga, in olden times called Augusta, a very ancient city. It is eight leagues from Oporto.
On the 10th, after eating, we left Barcelos and after five long leagues we arrived at the town of Ponto do Lima, by which flows the Lima River, with a handsome bridge of eighteen arches. After eating in an inn, after three miles, we arrived at Coserado.
On the 11th [of November] after traveling three leagues, we arrived at Valença do Minho, the last town in Portugal on the northern route. Crossing the river Miño, which is as powerful as the Rhine near Basel, we arrived at the city of Tuy, which is situated on a mountain above the river, across from Valença, and is the first city of Galicia. It is a bishopric, with a nice church.
The same day, after our meal, we left Tuy, and very late at night arrived at Redondela, a little town situated on an inlet, where they fish for the very abundant sardines. And if a certain German, born in Frankfurt, who lived there, hadn't given us lodging, we would have passed a very bad night, because the weather was rough; but in exchange for our money, he gave us much largesse.
On the 13th, leaving Caldas before sunrise, we arrived at the very old city of Padrón, formerly called Iria. The first place we entered was the extremely old church of Santiago, and we saw under the high altar a stone column with a certain concavity, where they said the body of Santiago rested…..All of this seen rapidly, after four leagues, we arrived at the very holy city of Compostela, in which, they assured us, the whole body of Saint James the great lies, son of Zebedee and brother of John the Evangelist.

What Münzer Saw:
The rich and varied landscape of the Portuguese Atlantic zone remains as it was in the 15th century, with many more houses scattered over the countryside, and not confined to walled cities. Tomar still has its great castle, which was founded by the successors to the Knights Templar, and was a favorite dwelling place of Prince Henry the Navigator.

And Oporto is still a major port, with old houses along its waterfront, but not as old as the ones Münzer encountered.
Ponto de Lima still has its long bridge, though it is somewhat modified (now 15 arches instead of 18), but we were told that it was probably where the travelers crossed the Lima river in the 15th century.

And Tuy (or Tui, as it’s now called) has its Romanesque Cathedral, though again modified out of necessity after Münzer came calling: it has bracing arches over its nave and reinforced arches over its side aisles because of its earthquake-weakened structure, as well as heavy reinforcing buttresses around its squat Gothic cloister. The church of Santiago at Padron is still extant, though very much modified.

What Münzer Could Have Seen:
Tomar boasts the oldest surviving synagogue in Portugal. But it is quite small, the interior being sustained by four columns and twelve vaults surround them (for the four Matriarchs and the twelve tribes respectively). It was in use in the 15th century, but for Münzer, probably not worth seeing after the grand one in Lisbon.

In Coimbra, through which the German party passed, there was already a great University, but it is not mentioned at all. Likewise, Porto has a Cathedral that existed in Münzer’s time, but it must have been one of those things he decided not to mention “for the sake of brevity.” He could have seen ladies anywhere along the route doing laundry the old fashioned way.

What Münzer Never Would Have Seen:(June 18-20, 2011)
Cable cars, funiculars and motorboat tours in Oporto, a vast and luxurious hotel/spa in Coimbra within an 18th century mansion, and outdoor cafes and a wide river promenade, as well as old city walls incorporated into 20th century buildings in Ponto de Lima are certainly beyond Münzer’s imagination! Wine was certainly being produced. But Port?

The Art Historian Speaks:
Outside of Ponte de Lima, we stayed in a guesthouse that was as close to Münzer’s better accommodations on the Itinerario as could be found. It was called Paço de Calheiros, and it was owned and run by Count Francisco de Calheiros; it was an estate that had been within his family since the 12th century. Most of it was his personal residence, but some ground-floor rooms had been turned into a Bed and Breakfast.
Like Münzer, the Count gave us a tour, including the family chapel and heir personal archive. We had breakfast in the estate’s dining room, replete with weapons on the walls. This seems to be the sort of hospitality that Münzer and his companions enjoyed en route when they were lodged at assorted castles. However, our guesthouse did not have a collection of exotic animals. Instead it had a swimming pool and electricity and modern plumbing. The breathtaking views would have been the sort that Münzer loved.

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