The Misarela Bridge, also known as Bridge of the Devil or Hell’s Bridge (we explain why below), is one of the most interesting monuments in the North of Portugal. It has several legends attached to it, played a role during the peninsular wars, and is a place of dramatic beauty.
The Misarela bridge is a trestle bridge with a slightly pointed arch with a height of 13 meters. This is originally a medieval bridge built in the early 19th century (before the French Invasions) and gave rise to famous folk legends and ancient rituals. It has been a property of public interest since 1957. In this article, we will explore all of this, as well as the best ways to visit it.
Where is the Misarela Bridge?
The Misarela Bridge is located on the Rabagão River, less than 1 km from its mouth on the Cávado River. This bridge connects Minho to Trás-os-Montes, Vieira do Minho to Montalegre, in the parishes of Ruivães and Ferral, respectively. Although it is often designated as one of the great attractions of Gerês, it is still outside the National Park even though less than 1 km from the border. The bridge was built and rebuilt at the bottom of a steep gorge, resting on huge cliffs and a considerable height to the river in a densely forested area.
Next to the bridge, we also have a small waterfall with 5-10 meters, which in winter becomes quite imposing due to the strong water flow of Rabagão. While in summer, it has minimal water, forming natural pools great for a person to cool off.
How to visit the Misarela Bridge?
The only way to go to Ponte da Misarela is by car to one of the car parks and then a few minutes walk. It is not possible to drive directly to the bridge. We don’t know about public transport that passes near the Misarela bridge.
There are two ways to reach the Bridge, both of which require a 15 to 20-minute walk. The first, and perhaps the most popular, is through Sidrós, a parish of Ferral in the municipality of Montalegre; the second is through Ruivães, municipality of Vieira do Minho. Most people will come from Porto or Braga so we will explain how to get there from these cities.
Access to the Misarela Bridge by Ruivães
Starting in Porto, we have to take the A3 to Braga and then take the N103 towards Chaves. This is the road that goes to Gerês, which is well signposted. However, we will not take the exit to Gerês; we will continue to Salamonde and then to Ruivães. In Ruivães, we take the CM 1397 towards the Cávado river. However, a few hundred meters before we reach the river, a park appears on the left and a sign on the right.
We then have to park, as this is the beginning of the pedestrian path to the Misarela bridge. This route is only roughly 1 km and takes you directly to the bridge. There are not many ways to get lost as there are no other paths. It is an old medieval road, along the escarpments of the river, with unparalleled beauty. Furthermore, as it is relatively flat, it is easy to do with family and children.
Access to Ponte da Misarela by Sidrós, Ferral
To go to Ponte da Misarela through Sidrós, we basically need to walk a section of the PR5 trail – Misarela trail, between Cávado and Rabagão. The beginning of the trail is very easy to identify as it is next to Hotel da Misarela and the village’s playground. Both are well identified, so there is no way to miss them.
Coming from Porto or Braga, the route is exactly the same as we mentioned earlier. We take the N103 to Ruivães, and there we turn to CM1397 towards the Cávado river, but now we continue right up to the river and cross the bridge. Eventually, we arrive at CM1021, turn right and continue for about 1km until we cross the Cávado again and start to climb. We quickly enter a village and arrive at Sidrós. Just look for the signpost for the playground on the left and Hotel Misarela on the right side.
Now you need to park. In the parking area, there is an information panel about the Misarela trail. As we said earlier, to reach the bridge from here, it is necessary to hike a short section of the trail. Check here all the information about this trail.
This route to the bridge is also beautiful, but it is a little more difficult. Especially because it is much more inclined. Until you reach the bridge, it is almost always descending, which means that it is going up to go back. It is not too far, and it is well indicated, but it is a little more difficult, especially if there are people with less mobility.
The Legends of Misarela Bridge
The Misarela bridge is truly a legendary place, as it carries not just one, but two legends! The first and perhaps the most well-known justifies why it is also known as the bridge of the Devil or sometimes the bridge of Hell.
Legend of the Devil’s Bridge
Legend has it that one day a man fled soullessly through this region (sometimes he is a nobleman, other times a fugitive from the law). Frightened, he walks along the paths of the dense forest until he reaches the cliffs of the river. Seeing that he had no way of crossing the river and fearing that the pursuers would catch him, he decided to evoke the devil, asking him for help to cross the bridge, offering his soul in return.
At that moment, the devil appears, accepts the proposal, and makes a bridge for the man to cross. After crossing the bridge, the devil helps him to escape making the bridge disappear and then disappearing too.
Many years later, and when the same man was at death’s door, Satan appears again, now to collect the debt. Frightened, now repentant (of course), and wanting to break the pact with the devil, the man calls the priest to tell him what happened and asks him to absolve him of his sins. The priest decides to help him and goes to the place where the pact took place.
Moved by faith, the priest disguises himself as a peasant and goes to the place where the devil had appeared. When he gets there, he invokes the devil in a similar way to what the fugitive had done and says: “By God of the pure waters of Rabagão or by the devil of black stones, may a stone bridge appear here.” This is where the Demo appears, and as before, makes a bridge appear.
The peasant in disguise crosses the bridge, and while the devil rubs an eye, he takes the holy water he had hidden under his cloak and throws it towards the evil angel while shouting an exorcism! The frightened Devil disappears amid crashes and fumes, leaving behind the bridge that would come to be known as the Devil’s Bridge or Misarela Bridge.
So this is literally the Devil’s Bridge, as it was built by the Devil himself!
Legend of th ritual of maternity at Misarela
Perhaps even more fascinating than the devil’s legend is the almost extinct baptism ritual at Ponte da Misarela. Due to its location, and its mythical aura, the bridge also gained magical powers.
So, when a woman is unable to maintain a pregnancy or is afraid of having an abortion, she should go to the bridge at the end of the day (accompanied by her husband or family members) and wait for the first person to pass by. This traveler will be invited to celebrate the baptism of the future child. The baptism ritual must be performed on the spot, in ventris, and using pure water from the Rabagão River. It is said that no one ever refused to do so, as it is considered a moral duty and a great honor.
The ceremony consists of collecting water from the Rabagão River in a small bowl and pouring it over the woman’s belly while saying the following spiel:
“I baptize you, creature of God, by the power of God and the Virgin Mary, if you are a boy you will be Gervaz (Gervásio), if you are a girl, you will be Senhorinha.”
It may be necessary to repeat the trip to the bridge until a traveler is found to perform the ceremony. It is said that even today, there are some Gervásio and Senhorinha in the region and that this is proof of the existence of this curious popular belief.
Misarela bridge and French invasions
To conclude, we have to mention that it is not just popular beliefs and legends that the Misarela bridge lives. In fact, in addition to its extraordinary beauty, the legend of the devil, and the belief and ritual of baptism, the Misarela Bridge was also the scene of a bloody battle during the French invasions.
In 1809 the French army led by General Soult was in Porto. As a strong attack by Portuguese-British troops was imminent decided to retreat to Spain. In order to avoid fighting, the army avoided the main roads and fled through Serra da Cabreira.
On the 15th of May, they arrived in Salamonde and were intercepted at the Ponte da Misarela. There, in a narrow place and from which they couldn’t escape, there was real carnage. The French army had no room to maneuver, and in despair, they ran over each other, pushed each other, threw away their weapons, and fled (or tried). The number of deaths on the French side is said to have been very high, and as a result, a well-known popular song emerged:
“Weep girls from France,
Weep for your husbands,
On the bridge at Misarela
there were more dead than living!”
These are the legends, rites, popular beliefs, and the History of Ponte da Misarela. A visit to the bridge and the surrounding area reveals that this is indeed a mystical and magical place. Therefore, it is easy to understand why it is the origin of so many stories, myths, and curiosities.
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