Donated by the Portuguese king Sancho I, in 1232, to the Order of Knights Hospitaller, the town of Crato became the Order’s headquarters around 1340, leading to the creation of the Priory of Crato, with its 23 comendas or benefices.
In 1364, the headquarters were transferred to Flor da Rosa (2 km away), where the monastery of the same name was built. It constitutes the finest example of a fortified monastery in the Iberian Peninsula.
The Order’s headquarters returned in 1439 to the town, where the Palace of the Great Prior of Crato, attributed to the architect Miguel de Arruda, would later be built.
Balcony of the Great Prior of Crato’s Palace
Crato’s Main Church
Monastery of Flor da Rosa
The Alentejo is the region of the Iberian Peninsula where the largest number of megaliths is to be found, above all around Portalegre and Évora.
Anta do Tapadão (Crato), second largest dolmen in Portugal. Classified as a National Monument in 1910
Anta do Couto dos Andreiros, dolmen in Crato
The Menhir of Meada (Castelo de Vide), which is 7 metres high, is the tallest in the Iberian Peninsula
ALTER DO CHÃO – 14km (14 min)
This town of Roman origins, originally called Abelterium, is located on one of the roads linking the capital of Lusitania, Emerita Augusta (Mérida), to Olisipo (Lisbon).
The House of the Medusa
Ancient Roman villa, where an admirable mosaic representing a scene of Virgil’s Aeneid was recently revealed.
Roman Bridge of Vilar Formoso
The finest and best preserved example of a Roman bridge in Portugal.
Located in the heart of the town of Alter do Chão, this fortification, although not specifically designed for frontier defence, was intended to protect the surrounding territory. A small and harmoniously proportioned castle, it was used as a place of residence by the kings of the Bragança Dynasty whenever they stayed in Alter do Chão.
Alter do Chão Castle
Home to the Pureblood Lusitano horse, what is today the National Stud Farm of Alter do Chão was founded in 1748, in the domains of the Duchy of Bragança and on the initiative of king João V and his wife, the queen Maria Anna of Austria, with the aim of preparing horses for the Royal Manege.
The Stud Farm of Alter do Chão is where the horses of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, the famous Alter Real breed of Lusitano horses, come from. These bay and brown thoroughbred horses are trained according to the principles and the tradition of great eighteen-century masters of equestrian art: dressage in the pillars and with long reins, airs on the ground and airs above the ground.
Royal Stud Farm of Alter do Chão
PORTALEGRE – 23km (20 min)
Located on a slope of the Serra de São Mamede, the mountain relief that marks the border between Portugal and Spain, Portalegre was an important bastion in the defence of the Portuguese territory during the Middle Ages.
A predominantly baroque city, rich in architectural monuments, it is also known as “the city of the seven convents”.
The Convent of São Bernardo
Built in the 16th century, it was the most important Cistercian monastery south of the Tagus. The tomb of its founder, Dom Jorge de Melo, attributed to Nicolau Chanterene, is generally considered to be the most sumptuous in the country.
Magnificent collection of azulejo tiles from the 18th century
Tomb of Dom Jorge de Melo
Convent of São Francisco
Dating from 1276, this is the oldest convent in the city. The building was restored according to an admirable plan drawn up by the architect Cândido Chuva Gomes. The altar of the Chapel of Gaspar Fragoso is a masterpiece of stucco work, imitating to perfection the more expensive work in stone or marble.
Exterior view of the Convent
The Chapel altar
Portalegre’s tapestries are unique, being hand-woven according to a technique which allows the minute reproduction of the different tones and nuances of a painting or a drawing.
These tapestries are greatly appreciated by a number of contemporary artists, as a form of reproducing their works of art.
Built in the 16th century in mannerist style.
The Municipal Museum is sited in a sixteenth-century building, which two centuries later was transformed on the initiative of The Bishop of Portalegre Dom João de Azevedo. It hosts works of religious art from the convents of São Bernardo and Santa Clara.
Splendid collection of faience dishes, called “ratinhos” (“little mice”).
Manueline-style windows of Dom Nuno de Sousa’s Palace
Portalegre was a very prosperous city during the 16th and 17th centuries, thanks to the development of its textile industry. This attracted a great number of noblemen to the region and gave rise to an urban bourgeoisie, leading to the construction of numerous buildings which were to alter profoundly the structure of the medieval city.
The house which became known as Dom Nuno de Sousa’s Palace was part of this wave of construction and displays an erudite repertoire comparable to that of the Convent of São Bernardo, of the same period.
Built in 1290, during the reign of king Dinis, Portalegre Castle denotes the strategic importance of the city in the defence of the Alto Alentejo’s frontier.
The castle was rehabilitated according to a major project by the architect Cândido Chuva Gomes.
Brief stop at the Café Alentejano – a pure modernist work, preserved in its original plan, by the decorative painter Benvindo Ceia.
Built in the 18th century, it is usually considered to be the most baroque of Portuguese churches. The interior decoration consists of gilded woodcarvings, azulejo tiles and paintings on canvas.
Church of the Bom Fim
CASTELO DE VIDE – 32km (30 min))
Built on a hill, this medieval fortified town is dominated on the northwest side by its twelfth-century castle. An enceinte with bastions from the 17th and 18th centuries surrounds the medieval quarter, a maze of narrow streets which harbours the most important collection of ogival doors in Portugal.
Castelo de Vide also possesses the best preserved Jewish quarter in the country. The Hebrew presence is revealed by the names of the streets and the cult symbols left by generations of Jews over their granite doors. The Rua das Espinosas, for example, reminds one of the famous seventeenth-century philosopher, Baruch (Bento) Spinoza, whose ancestors lived in Castelo de Vide.
The town’s thermal waters, well-known since the Roman period, spring out from the numerous fountains that punctuate Castelo de Vide.
The Church of Santa Maria da Devesa is located on Dom Pedro V Square (Praça D. Pedro V)
The oldest thermal fountain is the so-called Fonte da Vila (“Town Fountain”), which dates from the 16th century
The Synagogue, which has been preserved, is today a museum
AMIEIRA DO TEJO – 38km (32 min)
Amieira do Tejo Castle
Built by the Order of Knights Hospitaller in 1362, the castle is part of the frontier’s defensive line, south of the Tagus.
It is considered to be the prototype of the Portuguese Gothic castle.
Chapel of the Calvário
The sole example in Portugal of a baroque altar entirely sculpted in granite is to be found in this chapel dedicated to the Calvary.
The Chapel of São João Baptista, within the castle, possesses a splendid roof decorated in sgraffito.
MARVÃO – 43km (45 min)
This small medieval town, perched on the top of a rocky crest more than 860 meters high and protected by a rampart, is one of the Portuguese crown jewels.
The escarpment on which the town is located is a natural defensive spot, being only accessible from the East. It is probable that it had already been occupied by the Romans, i.e. before having been used as a strategic refuge, at the end of the 12th century, by the Muslim chief Ibn Marwan, founder of the town of Badajoz and from whom the name Marvão derives. The town was later conquered by the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques, and donated by Afonso III, in 1271, to the Order of Hospitallers.
Of virtually impossible access, Marvão’s fortifications were “the safest in all the Kingdom”. Over time, from Afonso Henriques’s conquest to the Wars of Restoration between Portugal and Spain during the 17th century, the town adapted to new military techniques, until finally it became what it now is: a place of peace and beauty.
Every visitor should go along the ramparts right round Marvão as far as the tower, from where, as the saying goes, “one can see the back of high-flying birds”.
Aerial view of Marvão
Outside garden of Marvão Castle
Interior of Marvão Castle
BELVER – 53km (45 min)
In 1194, the region where Belver Castle was to be built was donated by king Sancho I to the Hospitallers, on condition that its knights should build there a fortification bearing the name chosen by the monarch.
First fortification to be built by the Knights Hospitaller in Portuguese territory, between the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries, it is also the main construction undertaken by the Order in the country.
The castle was part of the Tagus defensive line against Muslim incursions.
ELVAS – 80km (1h)
CLASSIFIED AS A WORLD HERITAGE SITE IN 2012
Implanted on an undulating riverside landscape, and protecting the main frontier between the Portuguese and the Spanish capitals, the garrison city of Elvas was fortified between the 17th and the 19th centuries, having become the most extensive system of fortified bastions in the world.
The city was supplied with water by means of the Amoreira Aqueduct. Stretching over more than 7 km, the aqueduct was built in the end of the 16th century, having played a crucial role at the beginning of the next century in the city’s endurance of a long siege.
Inside the walls, the city possesses a vast number of barracks and other military buildings, as well as churches and monasteries. The historic centre, with its castle, its remaining ramparts and its religious buildings, shows that Elvas grew, between the 10th and the 14th centuries, inside three successive fortified lines. The city was made part of the major fortification works which marked the period of the Wars of Restoration (1641-1668), when a great variety of military constructions were built so that Elvas could play its part as a garrison.
The urban wall, the external forts of Santa Luzia and Graça, and the fortins (small forts) of São Mamede, São Pedro and São Domingos are good examples of the evolution from the old Dutch type of fortification to an exceptional defensive system of bastions.
Conceived by the Dutch Jesuit and engineer Cosmander, these constructions represent the best-preserved example of the Dutch school of fortification in the world.
In the 18th century, the Fort of Graça (or Fort of Count de Lippe), together with four other small forts to the west, was built in response to the development of artillery with a longer range.
Church of the Domínicas (Dominican nuns)
The church was constructed in the 16th century on the same spot as the previous medieval Church of Santa Madalena, which had been founded by the Order of the Temple. The plan of the existing building was probably inspired by that of the former church. It displays a magnificent decorative programme of azulejo tiles, stucco works and affresco paintings.
Museum of Contemporary Art
The museum is sited in an eighteenth-century building, which had formerly been a hospital. It hosts the collection of António Cachola, one of its key works being the tampon chandelier, named The Bride, created by Joana Vasconcelos.
Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção (former Cathedral)
Designed in the 16th century by the architect Francisco de Arruda, this church stands out due to the massive aspect of its tower-like façade, which gives it the appearance of a fortress, symbol of the military and defensive character of religious Faith.