Portugal City Travel Guide: Viseu
Viseu, 70km west of Guarda, is one of Portugal's most pleasant towns. Viseu, pronounced "vi-zeh-oo" is the capital of Beira Alta province with a population of around 53,000 people.
Local legend has it that Viriatus, the chief of the local Lusitani, held out against the Romans here, before his betrayal and death. The name of the city derives from the Latin "viso" meaning "good view."
Viseu changed hands between the Moors and the Christians between the 8th and 11th centuries, before its capture by Ferdinand I of León in 1057.
The city's walls were added by Afonso V in 1472 and Viseu became a prosperous trading and agricultural town. Today's the area's Dão wines and university add to the well-to-do atmosphere. The annual Feira da São Mateus from mid-August until September 21 is an agricultural fair and festival that celebrates the area's local produce.
Viseu's cathedral is the historic heart of the town. The twin-domed, Romanesque-Gothic church dates from the 13th century with many later additions over the following years. The beautiful interior also includes the Sacred Art Museum with exhibits of religious art, vestments and sculpture.
The Museu de Grão Vasco (Tel: 232 422 049) is housed in the former bishop's palace and seminary next to the cathedral, and displays the work of Vasco Fernandes (aka Grão Vasco, the Great Vasco), one of the supreme masters of Portuguese art who lived in the late 15th to early 16th centuries. Among the works on display are the Life of Christ (1501-1506) commissioned for Viseu Cathedral and the St. Peter on His Throne (1530-1535).
The Igreja da Misericórdia, also in Praça de Sé, is another beautiful church known for its Rococo façade. Igreja da Misericórdia was built in 1775 by architect Antonio da Costa Faro. The church includes the Tesouro da Misericórdia, with more religious art on display.
Viseu's busiest square is the Rossio (Plaça da República) adjacent to the Câmara Municipal. Along Rua Almeida Moreira is the Museu Almeida Moreira (Tel: 232 423 769) with a quirky collection of ceramics, art and furniture. Further along the street is the Porta do Soar, a granite gate leading to a maze of alleys close to the cathedral. Viseu's other surviving city gate is the Porta dos Cavaleiros. Out of town in this direction is the Parque do Fontelo, formerly the grounds of another palace of the bishop.
Along Avenida Emidio Navarro and across the Rio Pavia is a monument to Viriatus (Viriato) made in bronze and stone in the heroic realist style and erected in 1940. The work is by the Spanish sculptor Mariano Benlliure (1862 - 1947).
Adjacent to the statue is the site of the Cava de Viriato, a unique octagonal earthwork made up of eight embankments and eight ditches, which are thought to have been filled with water to form moats. The archaeology of the camp is still uncertain and may have been a Roman camp or built later by the Arabs.
The narrow, winding alleys of Viseu's old Jewish area (Antiga Judiaria) contain some historic Manueline windows (Janelas Manuelinas), which are indicated by street signs, and this historic quarter of the city makes for pleasant strolling. On Rua Direita, another historic building is the Manor House of Visconde do Treixedo, an early 18th century Baroque building with richly decorated granite window perdiments and surrounds. The interior of the building has been converted into a bank.
Viseu's new town south of the historic centre includes the modern Palácio do Gelo shopping mall with its funky water feature, ice rink and multi-plex cinema and the university.
Viseu Tourist Office
Viseu Tourist Office.
Casa do Adro.
Tel. 232 420 950.
Getting to Viseu
The nearest train station to Viseu is in Nelas, to the south, with connections to Coimbra from where there are trains to both Lisbon and Porto.
The A25 highway heads east to the Spanish border and Vilar Formoso and south to Covilha. The E80/IP5 runs west to Aveiro, connecting with the north-south A1/IP1 which links Porto and Lisbon.
Viseu has bus connections from the bus terminal at Avenida Dr Antonio Jose de Almeida to Coimbra (75 minutes), Covilha (1 hour, 40 minutes), Lisbon (3 hours, 30 minutes), Porto (1 hour, 45 minutes), Mangualde (20 minutes) and Guarda (75 minutes).
Buses also go to Salamanca in Spain with onward connections to Madrid. The bus station is a short walk downhill from the Camera Municipal.
Viseu has a number of excellent places to stay including the Hotel Avenida, right next to Rossio, the Casa da Rua da Paz, the Hotel Palacio dos Melos and the Pousada De Viseu, located in a grand 19th century building.
See here for a full listing of hotel accommodation in Viseu.
The 4-star Hotel Grao Vasco, Rua Gaspar Barreiros, 3510-032 Viseu, Portugal.
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Many of Viseu's eateries are located on the Rua Direita. Regional specialities of the local cuisine include cheese, cod cakes (pataniscos) and beef stew with beans and pork (feijoada). Recommended is O Hilario on Rua Augusto Hilario.
Viseu's student population means there are quite a few trendy bars and clubs to sample. Bar do Gelo is an ice bar within the excellent Palacio do Gelo shopping mall about 2km outside the city center.
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The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade.
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