Belmonte’s first charter was granted by D. Sancho I. in 1199, and the streets of this old village lead to its ancient hilltop castle. A document dated 1258 described its high donjon, walls and bulwarks. This austere defensive architecture is interrupted by an elegant Manueline window, featuring the armillary sphere associated with D. Manuel I, (symbolising the world), and the Cabral family coat of arms featuring two goats (cabra meaning ‘she-goat’ in Portuguese).
Among the heroes produced by this illustrious family was Pedro Álvares Cabral, who was born in Belmonte in 1467, and discovered Brazil in 1500.
Next to the castle there is a small Romano-Gothic church dedicated to São Tiago. This contains a sculpted granite Pietà of simple rough beauty.
An annexe to the church houses the pantheon of the Cabral family, although the ashes of Pedro Álvares Cabral are entombed in the church of Graça, in Santarém.
A significant Jewish community settled in Belmonte, mainly in the fifteenth century, when Jews fleeing persecution in Castile took refuge here. They lived in houses in the Marrocos district outside the castle walls, where the symbols of their professions, such as the tailor’s scissors, can still be seen engraved on the doorposts. Belmonte preserves its medieval atmosphere as effectively as the Jews secretly preserved their prayers, traditions and customs until today’s more tolerant climate allowed them to found a new synagogue, Bet Eliahu.