Elvas: Portugal's Garrison Town
If you love megaforts, you will love Elvas. The major challenge for Portugal after independence in 1640 was to protect itself from Spain. Both countries are rough and so you're either on the road or your soldiers are hiking up mountains.
Elvas was Portugal's largest frontier fort on the road from Madrid to Lisbon and it remains one of the great fortresses in Europe.
Following the steps of the Duke Wellington in his defense of Portugal from Napoleon's armies in Spain was the main purpose of our trip to Portugal and Spain so it was inevitable that we ended up in Elvas.
It's almost next door to Badajoz, the next Spanish border fort and that was one city we had to see so popping over to Elvas was an easy jaunt. It provided a view of fantastic countryside as we drove.
Once there, it became a perfect centre for us to make day trips to small towns around and become much more comfortable with Portuguese history and architecture.
Tourist brochures tend to push places that are already famous on the assumption that you can't visit everything but this really cheats you out of the many major marvels that nations have developed over its history and then forgotten in the rush of modern life only to be rediscovered by historians in the modern age. Elvas is the centre of this kind of rediscovery.
Located in Alentejo, a region known for its wine and savouries, Elvas itself is known for its olives and plums and sampling of these from its many restaurants is quite an experience.
The Girassol was our victim for the night and Mom and Dad were great cooks and superb hosts without blowing Grumpy's budget.
What to See in Elvas
Elvas was declared a UNESCO world heritage city on 30 June of 2012. Some of what the city offers are:
With the demise of the Moors, there followed a medieval wall called the Fernandina built of massive stone around 1350. But unhappily, the Wall was viewed as a Home Depot style material supplier for the construction of the massive fortification of 1643.
Portugal was really worried about Spain's aggressive intent and this wall was to be the cork in the Spanish wine bottle. A Dutch Jesuit brought the most modern geometric theory of Europe to this really rough country and designed a fort to fit. It is a masterpiece. The Spanish gave it a pass.
However, Elvas' Our Lady of the Assumption was designed by the Royal architect, Francisco de Arruda, in the Baroque and Manueline style and was completed in 1537. The staff shared of the place willingly that we were charmed.
It houses a first class Sacred Art Museum which is really worthwhile visiting. With its paintings and sculptures by the second tier artists of the day, it displays some of the most interesting historical pieces of the region.
Where to Stay in Elvas
Our hotel, the Sao Joao, had once been a monastery and then during the Peninsular War it was converted to a hospital. However, today, it's a first class place to stay right downtown with easy parking.
You can walk everywhere from here. The room we were given was huge and the size of the bathroom made us think that perhaps, the head of the monastery set up camp here.
There's a wonderful flowered terrace overlooking a beautiful garden and the nooks and crannies of the hallways are filled with five hundred year of history.
Famous Elvas Fairs and Festivals
There are several fairs that draw crowds to this city. The most famous are:
It would be enormous fun to time your visit with any of these festivals.
Day Trips from Elvas
Strategically located for day trips to towns of both Portugal and Spain, from Elvas, we took some lovely drives which brought us to some of the most wonderful medieval villages we have seen in Europe.
There is also a museum displaying the collection of a priest. Its quite a collection showing how much richness the Church really have.
Evora managed to miss the great earthquake of 1755 which hammered Lisbon and much of southern Portugal.
As a consequence, the history of the city from the time of the Celts through the Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians can all be seen in bits and pieces happily living together, well displayed and well protected. It's small enough to catch everything with a good walk and is very photogenic.
Close by is the tiny village of Almendres where you can be in the midst of mystery: The Cromlech. This is none of the biggest megalithic structures in Europe.
Your introduction as you enter is that of a small medieval village that really hasn't moved on much in a century or so. The town was closed for the mid-afternoon mega break so we drifted on to the next town to find something to eat.
The tourist information centre was the best we’d had in this trip. They even gave us posters of some of the battles that took place there.
We went to the Palace and imagined the battle from there, at least what we could see.
What a surprise. The town seems to be off the radar when we had done our planning but we kept reading when we were driving and this jumped out of the iPad as the place to see. It has a reputation for tapas but our experience was pretty average.
The Museum is an architectural gem and because Merida had such a long history of wealthy Roman occupants, the display of mosaics on the walls of the Museum and the massive statues are superb. We will never doubt the wealth of Rome as displayed in its colonies ever again.
Before you go, check out these other articles on Portugal: