Very close to the border with Spain is the fortress city of Elvas and after leaving the delightful city of Beja we stopped off there on our way to an overnight stay in Estremoz.
As it turned out my pre-travel research let me down rather badly on this occasion because this was a place that would have been good to stay longer but we found ourselves restricted to only an hour or so in what had become at this point a bit of a cramped and overly ambitious schedule.
We arrived around mid morning and parked the car close by to the impressive city aqueduct. The Amoreira Aqueduct has a length of over seven thousand metres from its spring in the nearby mountains. It is the longest and tallest aqueduct in Iberia. It is a truly impressive piece of sixteenth century architecture that was constructed to supply the frontier garrison with fresh water as the city wells became inadequate and one-by-one dried up.
To reach the centre we passed through one of the many garrison gates that were designed originally to keep people out but were now easily accessible and we quickly discovered that we were in one of Portugal’s hidden gems. Elvas is located in the far east of the country and of the Alentejo region and it seems that many tourists rarely consider visiting which is a shame because those like us who make the journey are rewarded with a fascinating town rich in history and beauty.
But wait just a minute because that would make it one of those Instagram destinations that I have previously complained about?
A border fortress city naturally required strong defences to protect the country and Elvas is among the finest examples of intensive usage of the trace italienne (a star fort) in military architecture, and has been a World Heritage Site since 2012. A star fort is just that, a celestial shaped design which made it easier to defend and difficult for besieging armies to successfully attack it.
Elvas, it turns out is the biggest fortified town not only in Portugal but all of Europe. Inside the fortress town we walked through the ancient whitewashed streets, cobbled streets which were painful to negotiate in tourist sandals. Along narrow passages lined by houses with blistered wooden doors, Shutters thrown back like the wings of butterflies basking in the midday sunshine. Sagging washing lines groaning under the weight of the dripping laundry. The rich aroma of lunch time cooking seeping out from open windows. Outside of the front doors pots of flowers in various stages of bloom and decay. Fabulous.
At the top of the town we arrived at the ancient Moorish castle which has had the benefit of considerable and extensive renovation and we paid the modest fee to climb to the top of the battlements and enjoyed expansive views over the plains of Alentejo and the neighbouring country of Spain.
Walking down from the castle we made our way to the Praça da República, which in Portugal is sort of the equivalent to the Plaza Mayor in Spain but rarely ever so noisy or busy and we found a spot in the sunshine to join local people for a lunch time drink and a simple lunch before it was time to move on.
Much too soon really, I would gladly have stayed in Elvas for much longer and an overnight stay but we couldn’t rearrange our schedule now so we returned to the car and headed in the direction of nearby Estremoz.
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