Óbidos is a small town surrounded by medieval walls, located approx. 80 km from Lisbon. Despite a small area (142.17 km2) and a small number of residents (11 thousand), it is known throughout the world because of its historical locations and international festivals. It is also a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site.
The town, situated on a hill, was founded in the ancient times by the Celts who arrived in the area. The town’s name itself comes from the Latin word oppidum, meaning a fortified settlement. In the days of the Roman Empire, the Romans occupied the settlement, establishing a fortified camp. The Moors, who arrived later, contributed to the construction of a mighty castle. After the fights of the Christians with the existing settlers, as a result of the Reconquista, the town passed into the hands of King Denis of Portugal, who gave the town to his future wife – Isabella of Aragon – as a wedding gift. Later, the fate of the town was influenced by an earthquake in 1755, which ultimately destroyed the village.
One of the most interesting attractions in the region are the rebuilt historical buildings where hotels (called Pousada) have been established. It is mainly here that reconstructions of knightly tournaments are held, as well as events related to the customs of the Middle Ages and other cultural events intended to attract tourists from all over the country. Of course, there is no shortage of historical churches in the town – in St Mary’s Square is the Santa Maria Church, nearby is St Peter’s Church with an altar made of gilded wood, as well as the Misericordia Church with a Renaissance pulpit. Also operating in Óbidos is the Abílio de Mattos e SilvaMuseum – the former town hall, municipal court and prison. In recent years, the museum was adapted to house works by artist Abílio de Mattos e Silva – painter and stage designer who, although not from Óbidos, was raised here, and in later years lived here with his wife Maria José Salavisa (an interior designer). There is also a Municipal Museum in the town – one of the most significant buildings, which after reconstruction in the 18th century was received by the royal family, later becoming the residence of painter Eduardo Malta. Since 1977, it has been owned by the city authorities.
Óbidos can also boast a rich cultural heritage. The town deserves to be called the “city of women”, because in addition to having been mostly owned by queens in the Middle Ages, it was later the birthplace of Portuguese painter Josefa de Óbidos, who was one of the few well-known female artists of the Baroque.
Another thing that the small land north of Lisbon is known for is festivals. The most acclaimed of these is the International Chocolate Festival, which attracts enthusiasts and confectioners from all over the world. The event lasts for several weeks, with a different theme for the presentation of products every year.
Serving as proof of the cultural life of the city is the SIPO International Piano Master Classes & Festival, organised since 1996. During this time, the most prominent composers and musicians of the world arrive to Óbidos. The festival enjoys financial and institutional support both from the Óbidos municipality as well as from the Portuguese Ministry of Culture. Additionally, the event receives grants from a number of non-state sponsors.
The medieval festival is an attraction that speaks to the residents’ remembrance of their heritage. During the festival, the spirit of medieval Europe is recreated, not only through knightly duels but also courtly balls and jesters’ performances. Everything ends with a common meal straight from the medieval town.
The Christian roots of the city are particularly evident during the Holy Week. The rituals invoked date back to the 17th century, when the first celebrations took place – a procession on the streets, recalling the passion and death of Christ on the cross. To this day, residents present religious ceremonies, but in addition to this, there is also a well-organised cultural programme of exhibitions and concerts.