Almeida is to Portugal what Cuidad Rodrigo is to Spain, it is the fortress which guards the northern corridor. As such it played an important part in the Peninsular Wars. It is perhaps best known for the French siege in 1810, when one of the first shots fired caused a chain reaction resulting in the destruction of the fortress. The cathedral contained the central powder magazine. A lucky shot led to a chair reaction which caused the magazine to explode. The cathedral ceased to exist, the tops of houses throughout the town were sheared by the explosion as if by a knife. The outer walls suffered little, but 500 Portuguese solders were killed in an instant. The garrison surrendered the following day.
This is the same explosion which Sharpe escaped by hiding in a bread oven in Sharpes Gold!
Almeida is only a few miles from Cuidad Rodrigo. It is a slightly larger fortress, and even better preserved, as can be seen from the photograph above. However whereas Cuidad Rodrigo is a bustling town full of life, Almeida has the feel of a deserted place, almost a museum. There are people living in the town, but it seemed unnaturally quiet when we were there, even though it is a popular tourist attraction. And perhaps that is the problem, it has the feel of a National Trust village in UK. Almost as if it is preserved for tourists to come and wonder at.
This bridge is still the main entrance, indeed I believe the only entrance, to the town. Clearly very little has changed since 1810, although all signs of the explosion have been removed - except for the site of the cathedral. It is a flat area at the top of the town, and looking at the town you an easily imagine how the explosion would have removed the roofs of the houses, but gone over the top of the walls.
This rather pretty post card of Almeida sums it all up for me. A picturesque old fortress suitable for coach parties to spend half an hour or so. Nothing wrong with that, but it seemed to lack character or personality. Or perhaps it was just my mood on the day we visited?
Not so in fact. We were to return a few years later and spend a night in the Paradore, and were left with a very similar impression.
The streets can have changed but very little since 1810. You an almost imagine Sharpe and Harper arriving with the gold on their way to report to the garrison commander! This is the main street and on the left are the casemates. They are kept locked, but opened for coach tours. It was a very dark and dank sort of place, as you would expect. The floor was covered with heaps of rusting cannon balls. You wonder why the magazine was not stored in the casemates, which I imagine would be the natural place for it.
The original barracks. Unfortunately we were not allowed to look around, not sure why. They did not seem to be occupied or in any way lived in.
Proof that there are occupants of Almeida. Its just a little surreal that they were using donkey transport. Again shades of Sharpe and Harper.
I feel Almeida should be a lot more interesting than it was. I have struggled to explain why it was not so and feel that I have failed. It would be interesting to hear from anyone else who has visited to know whether they felt the same.