Situated close to the mouth of the river Lima, 65 kilometres to the north of Porto and 50 kilometres from the Spanish border at Valença, Viana do Castelo was founded in the thirteenth century by D. Afonso III, the king of Portugal, under the name of Viana da Foz do Lima.
The sea was always the main reason for the city's existence: at one time it had 70 merchant ships and, in the period of the Discoveries (in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), carracks and caravels set sail from the shipyards of Viana to follow the sea routes to India and North and South America, returning laden with sugar, ebony, ivory and other exotic goods. A native-born son of Viana, João Álvares Fagundes, pioneered the navigation route to Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. Without knowing it, he was to pave the way for the beginning of the cult of the many different ways of cooking cod in Portugal.
In the mid-twentieth century, a fishing fleet was built in the shipyards of Viana do Castelo to fish for cod in the cold waters of the northern seas. The tomb of João Álvares Fagundes can be found in the chapel of Christ the Lord, inside Viana do Castelo Parish Church.
Until the sixteenth century, the town belonged exclusively to the common people, and the nobility were forbidden to settle here. When its doors were finally opened, Viana was suddenly enriched with palaces, churches, convents and fountains forming a remarkable heritage that is well worth a visit. In 1848, the queen D. Maria II raised Viana to the status of a city and gave it its new name of Viana do Castelo. A beautiful, extrovert and lively city, Viana do Castelo has successfully preserved the wealth of its deep-rooted popular traditions.
The Romaria de Nossa Senhora da Agonia (Festival of Our Lady in Sorrow), including one of the most beautiful religious processions in Portugal, is an explosive mixture of colour and happiness that no-one can afford to miss.