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Estremoz and Portugal’s “Queen of Peace”

As with many other towns and villages in the Alentejo, the castle at Estremoz sits high above the town looking down across the meandering plains to the Serra d’Ossa, surveying the seemingly never-ending olive groves, cork forests and vineyards below. But what makes Estremoz stand out from other towns in the Alentejo? 

The town is famous for many things; its white marble that has been used since Roman times to build empires, its wineries and the fine wines they produce, its bonecos (clay figurines), which are recognized by UNESCO as an item of intangible cultural heritage, and the Saturday open air antiques and collectables market that people come from far and wide to attend. 

Portugal’s "Queen of Peace”

But what is its link to the queen of peace, Queen Isabel, is a much-loved figure in Portuguese history indelibly linked to Estremoz.

Portugal is a nation of poets and romantic writers, and one of its most endearing legends is the story of the sainted Queen Isabel, famous for her piety and devotion to the poor. It is said that one winter morning she was caught red-handed sneaking alms to the poor, and when confronted by her husband, king D. Dinis, the saintly queen opened her aprons from which rose petals fell to the ground, exonerating her from any wrongdoing. 

When you visit the citadel of Estremoz you cannot miss the beautiful modern statue of Queen Isabel (in local marble, of course), with her skirts full of roses. There is also a chapel built to her memory with traditional azulejos (Portuguese tiles) that tell her story. Isabel was also instrumental in negotiating peace between her husband D. Dinis and their son, Crown Prince D. Afonso. She rode a mule between the two armies assembled to do battle, in 1323 at Alvalade, as well as in 1336 at age 65, she travelled from Coimbra to meet with her son again to successfully prevent war with Castile. Thus earning her the name of "Queen of Peace”.

Estremoz castle itself, although never involved in any major battles, did suffer a huge explosion in the armory, which destroyed most of its buildings in 1698, leaving only the Tower of the Three Crowns in tact and still visitable today. You can climb the keep tower for spectacular view across the town by accessing a stairway in the Pousada de Estremoz, today a 5 star hotel. The hotel has a stylish and traditional old-world feel, and offers a great place to stop for afternoon tea or pre-dinner drinks in the bar—the windows of which also provide panoramic views. 

Also, in the castle square you will find the parish church of Santa Maria, the D. Dinis art gallery, which has a regular program of art exhibitions, and the Municipal Museum, revealing a glimpse of what life was like in Estremoz through the ages. 

Another little gem is the Elapedra Gallery, run by Felipa, who is more than happy to personally guide you around, and in a town built on marble it is one of the only places to buy an authentic piece of marble artwork.

This is only a small corner of the old town and you will find that Estremoz is a settlement that punches well above its weight in things to see and do. Queen D. Isabel sadly passed away in the town in 1336, later being sainted in 1516 by pope Leo X, and today she still holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the people of Estremoz.  

Learn more about Estremoz at https://visitestremoz.com

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