Excursions with Castles

In the Alentejo, you travel naturally with and to History. The abundance and the quality of the Heritage which it expresses become easy for you to discover but, if you are visiting the Region for the first time, you could be spoiled for choice. If this is the case, don’t hesitate: opt for our suggestions and you will discover that the magic of the Alentejo is to be found, with endless pleasure, everywhere.

The whole of the landscape of the Alentejo is dotted with castles, forts, watchtowers and fortified towns and villages, bearing witness that, with the Reconquest firmly established in the south, it was necessary to continue to defend the frontiers of the country to the east, responding to wars with Spain, to prevent attacks by sea from the west and, throughout the interior, to slow down any advances not contained by the frontier defences.

For those who bring with them an interest in fortifications, which itself is an excellent pretext for getting to know the exquisite historical centres that these fortifications were created to protect, there is a seemingly endless list of places, each with a particular history and a unique setting within the landscape: in the north of the Alentejo, there are Amieira do Tejo, Nisa, Belver, Castelo de Vide, Marvão, Portalegre, Alegrete, Alter do Chão, Cabeço de Vide, Avis, Arronches, Ouguela, Campo Maior and Elvas; in central Alentejo, Montemor-o-Novo, Arraiolos, Évora, Evoramonte, Estremoz, Veiros, Borba, Vila Viçosa, Juromenha, Alandroal, Redondo, Terena, Monsaraz, Mourão, Portel and Viana do Alentejo; in lower Alentejo, Beja, Alvito (today a Pousada), Moura, Noudar, Serpa and Mértola; on the Alentejan coast, Alcácer do Sal (today a Pousada), Santiago do Cacém, Sines, Pessegueiro and Vila Nova de Milfontes (today a Turismo de Habitação).

Those who appreciate military architecture should at least visit the imposing torres de Menagem (castle keeps) in Beja and Estremoz, both dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, the fortified chapel of Nossa Senhora da Boa Nova in Terena, one of the most unusual monuments in Portugal, and Elvas, justifiably considered a museum-city of fortifications. And as a visit that is obligatory for everyone, whatever the thematic purpose of their travels, we would highlight the fortified hill town of Marvão.

Built on the most inhospitable, abrupt, inaccessible and steep ridge of the Serra do Sapaio, in the 9th century Marvão witnessed the tribulations of the Muslim rebel, Ibn Maruan, a celebrated name which would have given rise to the town’s present name. It later, during the 12th and 13th centuries, became an advanced post for Christian troops and then the stage for the history of Portugal up to the Peninsular Wars and the Liberal movements of the 19th century. In an exemplary state of conservation and with all the phases of its evolution well documented, Marvão could be considered as the paradigm of the history of most of the fortresses of the Alentejo. It is worth a visit just for this reason. But Marvão has other enchantments. Against all odds, the small settlement was born and grew in the shadow of the castle, with the rows of houses clambering along at the will of the ridge in that desolate place that they call "the eagles’ nest”, remaining intact for century after century, squeezed inside its protecting wall. So it is today, an example of both erudite and vernacular architecture, between the ancestral austerity of granite and the constantly renewed lightness of whitewash. Whether it appears to us suspended from a clear blue sky or surrounded by dark storm clouds, its beauty is so sublime that it deserves to be appreciated to the point of exhaustion.


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