The Original Gated Community

Obidos walls

Óbidos is not just an everyday castle, but an entire walled city with battlements 1565 meters (1711 yards) that you can walk around above the entire city.  People still live their everyday life within its walls. It has everything your city does, the social security office, bank, doctors, mini-mercados, a cemetery,  gardens and homes with pools.  Although your city is probably not a National Heritage site with tour buses pulling up daily, bringing in some nice Euros to the townspeople.

This is not just some campy tourist castle; it is living history and only 15 minutes from my casa. When anyone visits, I have to take them there and also when the chocolate festival is held.  I have inked in the Medieval Festival for the first time this year, my locals say it is not to be missed. Imagine your local Renaissance Fair in a locale that was first built by the Turdulos and Celts around 308 B.C! It started to look like the Óbidos I see today in 1326 when Queen Isabel married Afonso there and granted the growing city within the sturdy walls a charter. And I can just hop on a bus from Caldas and I am there in ten minutes. 

It is the original gated community, no one gets in unless they pass through one small but immensely beautiful 18 century oratory chapel, a musician is on one side using the acoustics to sell his CDs and an elderly woman is crocheting on the other selling small handmade bags and such. There are the usual mime-like creatures dressed as scary forest monsters but the star is Óbidos. Every cobblestone, every winding tiny street has a story. It has its own color, Óbidos blue, named after the trim on the majority of the buildings. Spring and summer flowers bloom lavishly, from planters, window boxes and along walls. Cafés line the streets selling Ginja, very strong cherry liquor served in chocolate cups. Three will give you the proper buzz, but drink them only after you have walked along the top of the castle walls. There are no safety rails, you are on your own and it is a long way down into the valley below.

Just recently after several visits this place has completely captured my imagination.  I dream of past centuries when the Óbidos Lagoon still reached the walled city making it easy for fishing and supplies to reach its citizens and also for the enemies to be picked off from the top of the ramparts.  When the aqueduct the Romans so thoughtfully provided as they pass through brought a steady supply of fresh water, the grapes were just outside the walls ready to be made into wine. Inside were gardens, chickens, craftsmen and pubs. The cattle Obidos streetcould be herded inside in times of danger. The roads are built for carriages and feet, not cars. The pillory still stands in the public square waiting for a criminal to be punished for the entertainment of the people. It boasts three churches for all those sinners, remember this was before television, each one more ornate than the one before.

When I first came from the airport to Caldas da Rainha on my “test out Portugal” trip, I saw Óbidos from the freeway and was enchanted. I am still enchanted each time I see it standing on the top of the high hill in looking out of place in the middle of the 20th century, except now, it has opened its gates to the invaders.  In this attraction, there is no entrance free to be a part of over 2,320 years of history.
Next time you are in an hour long line at an over-priced theme park, think of sipping a Ginja inside a walled city, only one Euro.

Constance left the U.S. not for spiritual enlightment (Eat, Love, Pray), or to run away from anything, but to challenge herself in a new culture, living a simple life. Portugal seemed to be the best fit, and so far it is just the right size. Read lots more at her blog, An Adventure Abroad.


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