Viseu can be found in central Portugal, a little north of the Serra da Estrela National Park. This historic city is full of tiny, winding medieval streets to wander around and explore. But – by contrast – in one of the biggest, wide-open spaces in the city, you’ll find the famous Sé, or Cathedral, directly opposite another church, the Igreja da Misericórdia (Church of Mercy). The Viseu Cathedral is one of the city’s most iconic buildings and it’s packed full of history. Here are some fun facts you probably didn’t know about this historical gem.
1. Its architecture is anything but straight-forward. Even though construction began during the reign of Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, in the 12th century, it actually lasted centuries. Therefore, the cathedral ended up with several different architectural styles, including Gothic, Manueline, and Baroque (the latter being when the azulejo tiles I love so much were added). Fun fact: there are two bell towers at the front of the building: one dates from medieval times, the other was actually reconstructed in the 1635 after the original tower was damaged by severe weather conditions. But can you tell which one that is?
2. It was the home of a saint. For a while, it was the home of Saint Theotonius, Portugal’s first saint, who lived between 1082 and 1162 AD. He was a trusted advisor to King Afonso Henriques and the royal family, and was greatly loved by both nobility and the masses for his humility and devotion. Saint Theotonius is, unsurprisingly, the patron saint of the Viseu Cathedral.
3. It houses a treasure. Since 1932, religious art treasures have been kept in a museum on the second floor of the cathedral. These treasures include religious works of art, books, sculptures, and reliquaries from various periods, which go back all the way to the 12th century. Visitors pay a nominal fee to gain access to the museum. As a bonus, they also get to see the cathedral from a higher vantage-point and get access to an outdoor space where they can admire the city from a bird’s eye view.
Do you know any other fun facts about the Viseu Cathedral? Please share them with me below!