Brites de Almeida, the baker of Aljubarrota, was a legendary figure and Portuguese heroine, whose name has been associated with the victory of the Portuguese, against Castilian forces, in the battle of Aljubarrota (1385). With her baker’s shovel, she would have killed seven Castilians she had found hidden in an oven.
Brites de Almeida was said to have been born in Faro, in 1350, to poor and humble parents, who owned a small tavern.
Legend has it that since she was a little girl, Brites revealed herself to be a burly, bony and ugly woman, with a hooked nose, a very ripped mouth and curly hair. She would have six fingers in her hands, which would have cheered the parents, as they thought they would have a very hard-working future woman at home. However, this would not have happened, as Brites would have embittered the lives of his parents, who would die early.
At the age of 26 she was already an orphan, a fact that is said not to have afflicted her very much. She sold the meager possessions she owned, resolving to lead an errant life, negotiating from fair to fair. There are many adventures that she supposedly lived, from the death of a suitor on the edge of her own sword, to the flight to Spain on board a boat assaulted by pirates who sold her as a slave to a powerful man from Mauritania.
She would end up, amidst a legendary little virtuous and confused life, by settling in Aljubarrota, where she would become a bakery owner and take a more honest life. She would find herself in this village when the battle between Portuguese and Castilians took place.
Defeated the Castilians, seven of them fled the battlefield to live nearby. They found shelter at Brites’ house, which was empty because Brites would have gone out. When Brites returned, having found the door closed, she soon became suspicious of the presence of enemies and entered bustling in search of Castilians. She would have found the seven men in her oven, hiding. Summoning them to leave and surrender, and seeing that they did not respond because they pretended to sleep or did not understand, she hit them with her shovel, killing them.
It is also said that, after the event, Brites would have gathered a group of women and formed a kind of militia that pursued the enemies, killing them without mercy.
In 1514, Afonso de Albuquerque, founder of the Portuguese Empire in the East and governor of the Portuguese Indies, wanted to build a fortress in Diu, a city located in the kingdom of Cambaia, ruled by King Modofar. Afonso de Albuquerque was authorized by King D. Manuel I, to send an embassy to the king of Cambaia, requesting authorization to build the fortress. King Modofar did not give in to the request, but, appreciating the offerings received, he gave Afonso de Albuquerque a rhinoceros. As it was impossible to keep him in Goa, Afonso de Albuquerque decided to send the rhino to King D. Manuel I, as a gift.
The arrival of the animal in Lisbon caused a lot of curiosity, not only in Portugal but in the rest of Europe, mainly because of its appearance – the rhino weighed more than two tons and had a thick and rough skin forming three large folds that gave it the strange appearance of a armour. It was the first rhinoceros alive on European soil since the III century.
The rhino, which was called Ganda, was installed in the park of the Palácio da Ribeira. Reminding the king of the Roman stories about the deadly hatred between elephants and rhinos, D. Manuel I, who had a small elephant as a pet, decided to check if this story was true. Thus, a fight was organized between the two animals, attended by the king, the queen and their chaperones, as well as many other important guests. The event was organized in the terreiro do paço, nowadays Praça do Commercio and stages were set up to watch this show.
When the two animals met face to face, the elephant, who seemed to be the most nervous, panicked and fled as soon as the rhino started to approach, destroying the stages and spreading the panic among the people.
In 1515, King D. Manuel I decided to organize a new extraordinary embassy to Rome, to guarantee the support of the Pope, following the growing successes of Portuguese navigators in the East, and with a view to consolidating the kingdom’s international prestige. Among the offers he decided to send the rhino, who wore a green velvet collar with roses and golden carnations. The ship left Lisbon in December 1515.
A violent storm arose off Genoa, the ship having sunk, the entire crew perishing. The rhino, although he knew how to swim, ended up drowning, because of the bonds. However, it was possible to recover his body. Upon hearing the news, D. Manuel I ordered the rhino to be stuffed and sent to the Pope, as if nothing had happened. But this animal was not as successful with the Pope as the elephant had previously done!
In Portugal the rhinoceros was immortalized, being represented in the Monastery of Alcobaça, where there is a naturalistic representation of the full-body animal, with the function of a gargoyle, in the Silence Cloister. It was also designed by the great printing master Albrecht Dürer, based on a letter from a Portuguese merchant that contained a drawing of the rhino.
And a small rhinoceros is also immortalized in the Belém tower. Where? You come with me to visit it and we will discover it.