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Battlefield Tourism in Portugal: 5 Major Sites in the Alentejo to Explore

Visitors to Portugal are drawn to its many castles, and some explore ancient battlefields to understand military strategy, history and sacrifice. Many are intrigued by places where a significant historic event took place. The Alentejo is one of the least mountainous parts of Portugal, and as a result witnessed some key battles in Portugal’s 800 years of fighting to be an independent nation. It has dozens of castles, walled towns and forts. To those who want to walk where sacrifice and courage kept this small nation independent and vital, these battlefields of the Alentejo are a moment in time.

Battle of Ourique, 1139, Castro Verde

The Battle of Ourique is a defining moment in the history of Portugal, as it was here that D. Afonso Henriques was on July 25, 1139, proclaimed King of Portugal by his troops after defeating the armies of the five Moorish kings.
It was in the field of Ourique, in Castro Verde, that the Portuguese army met the forces of the five Moorish kings of Seville, Badajoz, Elvas, Évora and Beja. Legend has it that D. Afonso Henriques would hear the voice of God, who promised him victory at Ourique and at other battles. The next day, D. Afonso Henriques led his men to completely decimate the Arab forces. According to legend, D. Afonso Henriques declared that his flag would have five shields in a cross representing the five conquered kings. Today, one of its most beautiful monuments to the victory is the Royal Basilica, with hand-painted tiles depicting scenes from the Battle of Ourique.

Battle of Atoleiros, Fronteira. 1384

The Battle of Atoleiros was of enormous significance, stopping a Castilian invasion in the midst of a dynastic crisis, and proving the Portuguese were very capable of defending their independence from a powerful neighbor. The result of the victory of an outnumbered Portuguese force at Fronteira on the field of Atoleiros in April of 1384, and led to the dramatic victory of Batalha that cemented Portugal’s independence. Outnumbered 3 to 1, a young military genius, D. Nuno Álvares Pereira lured the Spanish into a trap: He chose the place of the battle, in a small farm in Atoleiros, near Fronteira, around a stream that broke the momentum of an enemy attack — as did the mushy soil. He dug ditches, and hid planted spears, and placed archers on high ground. He formed his men into squares to beat back the enemy cavalry. The Castilians were decimated, and D. Nuno Álvares Pereira would go on to be a hero to his nation. Today a modern interpretive museum walks you through the battle and its consequences.

Battle of the Lines of Elvas, Elvas. 1658

For months in the War of Restoration, Spanish forces surrounded Elvas in late 1658. A relief army ended the siege, and on January 14th 1659, the battle between 14,000 Spanish troops and 11,000 Portuguese took place. A crushing defeat saved a beleaguered Elvas. Today, the mighty fortifications of Elvas stand in testament to the war - The oldest walls date to the days of King D. Sancho II and it grew to the biggest complex of bastioned land fortifications in the world. It has a perimeter wall that runs for 5 miles around the city, plus forts.

Battle of Ameixial, 1683. Estremoz

A large Spanish army, commanded by D. João José de Áustria, invaded Portugal from Badajoz and headed to take Lisbon. A much smaller Portuguese army, under the command of D. Sancho Manoel Count of Vila Flor, was able to meet the Spanish just outside of Estremoz on June 8th, 1663 at Ameixial and defeat the Spanish. After the victory, a commemorative monument was put up on Estrada do Cano, off the N. 245

Battle of Montes Claros, 1665. Borba

Near the Rio de Moinhos, not far from Borba, the final battle of the War of Restoration was fought. A monument commemorates the Portuguese victory at Montes Claros, fought in 1665. It was the last great battle of the War of Restoration, which ended with the signing of the peace agreement between Portugal and Spain, in 1668. The monument was erected in the same year by order of D. António Luís de Menezes, Marquis of Marialva and Count of Cantanhede, who led the battle as captain. Made of local white marble, it is topped by a royal crown. At the base, an inscription pays homage to the fallen. The Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Vitória is about 1 mile away, and is also dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives here. From there are sweeping views of the battlefield, nearby mountains and numerous marble quarries.

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