Portugal as a kingdom officially came into being in the year 1139 when Afonso Henriques crowned himself Afonso I, King of Portugal. However, most Portuguese consider the birth of the Portuguese nation to have happened at the Battle of São Mamede (near the town of Guimarães) in 1128. It was at this battle when Afonso Henriques defeated his mother’s forces and retained permanent control over the County of Portucale, a semiautonomous region of the Kingdom of Galicia.
Afonso I was also known as the Conqueror as he successfully battled Muslim forces to the south in Portugal’s own Reconquista. The Algarve, current Portugal’s southernmost region, was finally conquered in 1249 and since then the land boundaries of continental Portugal have remained surprisingly stable. For the record, it took Spain almost 250 years longer to finish their Reconqusita.
Now let’s make sense of the above names and places.
The County of Portucale was the region around the current city of Porto (Portucale in medieval times) that over the centuries varied significantly in extension. Roughly, however, it encompassed the regions between the River Lima in the north and the Douro River in the south. Thus, the city of Porto can claim to have named the country of Portugal.
The County of Portucale was first an integral part of the Kingdom of Galicia and later of the Kingdom of León. Indeed, it was under the rule of the Spanish King Alfonso VII of León, Castile and Galicia when Portugal broke definitely away from Spanish rule after the battle at Guimarães. Thus, the Portuguese claim that Portugal was founded there.
Perhaps the legacy that best recalls Portugal’s Galician origin is the language. Current Portuguese and Galician were once the same dialect spoken in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. After independence the language gradually evolved into what we know now. However, the two languages continue to be similar enough that Portuguese and Galicians can normally converse without too many problems.
On our Camino Portugués tours, we revisit the fascinating history of Portugal by visiting first Guimarães, and then, following the Camino, we make our way north across the historical County of Portucale to where current Portugal ends at the River Minho (Portuguese) or Miño (Galician), two different spellings for a word that’s pronounced the same.