Construction of a walled village began in the eighth century on a hill about 80 kilometers to the north of Lisbon. Originally a Moorish town, it was captured by the Portuguese and its wall and castle underwent significant renovation. Although the 1755 earthquake caused significant damage, the wall, castle and medieval streets still exist.
Unfortunately, our visit coincided with the annual Medieval Market, two weeks in which the town transforms into a festival with medieval costumes and customs everywhere. While that sounds like fun, and to some extent it is, it also makes the town feel a bit like a Disneyland attraction, teeming with tourists (both Portuguese and foreign) crowding almost everything. It’s a good thing for the town, bringing money into an area that doesn’t have much beyond agriculture and tourism.
The hilltop location means terrific views of the pastoral valleys that surround Óbidos, with farms popping up beyond the rooftops. There’s vineyards and undoubtably olive trees.
The castle is impressive, with towers and a walkway across the top that is populated with visitors. Although well-preserved, there are places, especially the steps up and down, that feel less than secure.
What does keep Óbidos from going full-on DIsneyland are the occasional views of the castle intermingling with the lives of the residents. As with everywhere in Portugal, including the heart of the cities, laundry is hung outside as dryers are rare. What an amazing experience to go outside to hang up the laundry in front of a castle dating back 1000 years!
Another intersection of the current and the past shows up in the graffiti. Graffiti and wall art are everywhere in Portugal, typically some real art mixed in with traditional tagging. In Óbidos, it’s a big different. The city is mostly white with blue accents. Virtually all of the graffiti is, as if dictated by law, blue. It’s often handprints, for some reason, which are devoid of the modern signs of typical tagging, somehow enhancing the medieval feeling.
And then there was the festival. While we didn’t stay for the Market, as it’s an evening event and we had to catch a bus back to Lisbon, some of the characters were in place towards the end of our visit.