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Towns and Villages

Surmounted by a castle built on a formidable crag at an altitude of 760 metres, Sortelha still retains its mediaeval appearance intact through the architecture of its rural granite houses.

Sortelha had therefore part of an important line of defence formed from a series of castles built on the borders of the territory, most of which were either erected or reconstructed on the earlier hill forts of ancient Iberian civilisations. The village´s name derives from the nature of its terrain, being surrounded by rocky escarpments in the shape of a ring (sortija, in Castilian), its walls also having been built in a circular fashion.

The entrance to the village is through a Gothic gateway, over which there is a balcony (Pilate´s balcony), with machicolations through which all kinds of projectiles were thrown at assailants. Before entering, you should note the beautiful pillory, surmounted by an armillary sphere, the symbol of D. Manuel I, and the building that once served as the town hall, both dating from the time of this king. On the post of another gate, facing westwards, two grooves have been cut into the stone to represent measures of length (the larger one is a vara [1.1 metres] and the smaller one is a côvado [0.66 metres]), used as measuring aids by mediaeval traders, at a time when the systems of measurement were not yet standardised.

The 14th-century parish church has an interesting Spanish-Arab ceiling, whilst the carved and gilded woodwork of the high altar was added in the Baroque period.

The great charm of this village is its evocation of a mediaeval atmosphere, with all the houses having been built of granite and generally consisting of just one storey. Their foundations have been built into the rock and follow the topography of the terrain. Another more modern village has grown beyond the walls, unfortunately displaying architectural styles that have little or nothing to do with the traditional roots of this region.

All around Sortelha, the landscape has the rugged beauty of the large granite boulders and the chestnut groves that frequently accompany these. At Casteleiro, on the road to Belmonte, was the medicinal station of Águas Radium (Radium Waters), considered to be amongst the most radioactive in the world. You can also enjoy a healthy walk following the old Roman-mediaeval road, along which the pilgrims used to pass on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Two interesting towns are to be found roughly 20 kilometres from Sortelha and each of them is undoubtedly worth a visit: Belmonte, to the west, and Sabugal, to the north. To the south-east, nature lovers can visit the Serra da Malcata Nature Reserve, where there are special trails for observing both flora and fauna in a landscape that is rich in mementoes from the Mediterranean woodland. The Iberian lynx is the symbol of this Nature Reserve. As it is a fairly mistrustful and rarely seen creature, it prefers to hide itself in the woodland, so that you may require a great deal of perseverance if you are hoping to catch a glimpse of it.

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