Ponte de Lima is a market town on the south bank of the Lima River facing a magnificent Roman bridge with low arches. Its setting, together with a laid-back atmosphere makes it one of the loveliest small towns in Portugal as well as one of the oldest towns (founded on March 4, 1125). It was established on the site of a Celtic settlement and developed by the Romans, who believed the Lima was the Lethe, the mythical River of Oblivion (visitors who crossed it would forget everything and stay forever). Ponte de Lima was historically significant as a Roman settlement in the road from Braga to Santiago de Compostela.
The old streets in the center are lined with elegant buildings and are a delight to wander through. Among the most distinguishing buildings are the 14th century Parish Church and Palacio dos Marqueses, a 15th century fortress-palace now functioning as the Town Hall. Ponte de Lima is also known in the region for its red Vinho Verde wines.
Ponte de Lima is the site of the Vaca das Cordas (Cow of the Ropes) festival. The festival is one of Iberia's many bovine-related traditions dating from pre-Christian times with origins in ancient Egyptian cults brought to the Iberian peninsula by the Phoenicians.
According to Egyptian mythology, Jupiter kidnapped his beloved Io and when repelled by her mother, he turned her into a cow and commanded a bumblebee to repeatedly sting her. As a result, Io fled to Egypt where she regained her human form and married the god Osiris. The Egyptians then erected altars to Isis in her honor in the image of a cow, a symbol that became a goddess of fertility in Egypt and later in Portugal.
It is believed that Ponte de Lima's parish church was built over such a temple, when the town's Christian citizens, in order to show their renunciation of idols, dragged their old bovine image around town until it broke into pieces. Since then, a live bull has been used. In the annual festival, a bull tied by the horns is lead three times around the church as it's jabbed with goads in reference to the mythical bee. Following this, mimicking Io's flight to Egypt, the animal charges through the town's streets before ending up at the beach. On the following day, there is a serene Christian procession, when the streets are covered with flowers.