The legend of Arnóia’s castle or the army that wasn’t

Once upon a time there was a story about Arnóia Castle, occupied by the Moors in Terras de Basto, and the stratagem devised by the Christians to take it.

Arnóia Castle stands on top of a hill. Small, it is still a strong military position, perched on top of a steep hill. Romanesque, it was built between the 10th and 12th centuries. But was it really like this?

Legend has it that when the Christian armies were fighting to conquer a country, they found Arnóia Castle to be a hard nut to crack. Here, in the land that is today Celorico de Basto, the Moors chose to settle in Arnóia, a position that could be defended much better than the heights of the Ladário and Viso mountains.

The emir and his soldiers were there, leaving the castle to impose their law on the surrounding villages. As they received news of the approach of the Christian hosts, they were less eager to ride through the hills and valleys of those fertile lands.

They only reached the Tâmega through the tunnels that linked the fortress to the river, some ten kilometres away. It was not that these Moors were cowards. It was not their lack of desire to fight that made them cautious, but rather the certainty of victory if they remained protected by the walls.

The Christians came from the north, chasing the Moors away. Ambushing, assaulting, besieging every nest of infidels they could find. The time they had spent fighting had reduced their army, which was not very large at the outset. When they reached the Lands of Basto, they realised they were facing a big problem.

Taking Arnóia Castle with a frontal assault was out of the question, such would be the cost in human lives and the uncertainty of victory. Centuries later, they would send a plane with a big bomb to solve the matter. But not only were times different, but people were different and war was to be done with honour, even against the infidel.

The lord of the Christian hosts, whose name has not been given, gathered his best people together to find a solution. From their camp, they could see, in the distance, the castle of Arnóia on top of a conical hill.

“This terrain offers no protection to our men,” he said. “Those who manage to climb the hill and reach the walls will no longer have the strength to expel the Moors”.

The problem was big, but the solution simple and within reach. In the surrounding hills and valleys, large herds of goats grazed peacefully.

Then someone had the great idea. And if…

Once the idea was in place, all they had to do was get to work. Some gathered the cattle, others fetched candles, others ropes. By nightfall, everything was ready. Now all we had to do was wait.

At the castle, the Moors grew more and more nervous. “What about the Christians, aren’t they attacking? What are they waiting for, more men? The hours went by and the land was covered in silence.

It was already high dawn when the Christian chief gave the signal. With a lighted candle tied to each horn, the goats began to walk. The noise of the rattles was almost deafening, so many were the animals

In the castle, the sentries sounded the alarm and the emir ran to the wall. What he sees makes his blood run cold. Across those valleys and hills, an army as large as any he had ever seen was heading for the castle of Arnóia, coming from all directions. There were so many soldiers, all with torches, and so well equipped that you could hear the clash of armour iron as they walked.

There was only one thing to do. Run away. All of them and without delay, before the Christians reached the banks of the Tâmega and the end of the tunnel.

And so, even before sunrise, the Moors fled through the tunnels and the few Christians took the impregnable castle by cunning.

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