Summer is approaching and we’re all longing for a long and well-deserved holiday. Depending on where you live, you’re probably already booking some hotels or you’re at least doing some research for your next escape. And as Portugal is doing quite good on the Covid-19 front, chances are you’re looking into spending some time in this beautiful country. Yet what do you actually know about its culture, about its history? Sure, you’ve heard about Fado but let’s be honest, Portugal has a lot more on offer than that.
Of course it would lead us too far to go into the whole of Portugal’s culture and traditions. If that’s what you’re interested in, head over to your local library or bookshop and go wild. We for our part will concentrate on one aspect of Portuguese heritage today: Braga Romana. Maybe you’ve never heard about the event, maybe you know exactly what it is but either way, we’ll try to tell you some interesting facts about it right now, right here.
Let’s start about the location of the event. As the name suggests, Braga Romana takes place in Braga. The city is the third-largest urban center in Portugal (Lisbon and Porto go first) and is located in the North-East part of Portugal. Even though it might not be as internationally-famous as Lisbon and Porto, Braga is clearly worth some of your time when visiting the country, especially if you’re a history nerd like us.
These days, most of Braga’s tourism is centered around its religious past. Up until today, Braga’s home to the Archdiocese of Braga of the Catholic Church (Portugal’s oldest archdiocese) and it’s the seat of the Primacy of the Spains. When walking through the magnificently paved streets of the old city, it’s not that difficult to imagine Braga’s past. The many churches in Baroque style, the urban palaces, the libraries… Braga’s been an important player within Portugal for a long time and that shows.
2. The Roman heritage
But even though most tourist guides and information pamphlets talk a lot of Braga’s history from medieval times onwards, only a few address the role of the city during Roman times. And that’s a shame because even then, Braga was an important city within the Roman Empire. And we can’t possibly talk about Braga Romana without at least explaining a bit of this Ancient history.
The Romans began to conquest the region around 136 BC and finished doing so during the reign of Emperor Augustus. That’s why, in 20 BC, a city with the name Bracara Augusta was born. The high tide of the Roman civitas only came in the first and second century though. And during the third century, Emperor Diocletian added to its fame even more by giving it the status of capital of the administrative area Conventus bracarensis, a.k.a. the southwestern area of the new Roman province of Gallaecia.
3. Braga Romana
Which such a rich history, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the city of Braga wants to celebrate its Roman roots. And that’s where Braga Romana comes in. Every year since 2003, at the end of May or beginning of June, the city transforms into a giant event in order to relive its Roman history.
Modern Braga turns into Bracara Augusta for a few days, if you will. The city center is transformed into a Roman market and several processions and other celebrations are spread out over the Braga Romana event. Think pantomimes, dance spectacles and drinking parties in honor of the Roman god Bacchus. Or what about Roman military encampments (Gladiators and Legionnaires included) and food prepared with the Ancient methods in mind (yet a little more hygienic than during the good old days)? There’s a lot to do, both for children and adults, so you won’t get bored if you decide to book a trip to Braga during Braga Romana.
4. Toga party!
If you thought we’d explained everything about the event already, you’re wrong. Maybe we’ve saved some of the best info until the very last moment. Because if you’re someone who loves to get dressed up, you’re right where you should be at Braga Romana. Officially, it’s not a Carnival celebration like those in Venice or Rio de Janeiro, yet how could one celebrate the Ancient roots of Braga without dressing up in a toga? Right, it wouldn’t be possible. And that’s why, every year again, loads of Roman costume enthusiasts gather at the happening. Which makes for an interesting sight, even if you prefer to dress yourself in your usual wardrobe staples.
Oh and if you’re a history fanatic, there’s even more good news to announce. The city of Braga has just announced that the archeological remains of Bracara Augusta will be turned into a true museum with a little park built around it, so tourists can enjoy the Ancient Braga in all quietness. The competition for the project has just be launched so it will probably still take a while before it gets completed but hey, it’s never too soon to put something on your bucket list.