Trip to North Alentejo – day 3

DAY 1 (15th March 2014) – Castelo de Vide and Marvão
Accommodation: Varanda do Alentejo (Marvão) – 42€/double room (breakfast included)
Dinner: Varanda do Alentejo (Marvão) – 13€/pax
Pastry: “Boleimas da Maçã” – 0.80€/unit
DAY 2 (16th March 2014) – Marvão, Portalegre and Elvas
Accommodation: D. Dinis (Elvas) – 47€/double room (breakfast included)
Dinner: O Lagar (Elvas) – 13€/pax
Museums/Monuments: Roman Villa of Ammaia – 2€/pax
DAY 3 (17th March 2014) – Elvas
Pastry: Sericaia – 8€


The 3rd and last day (17th March 2014) of our 3 days trip to the North Alentejo was spent in Elvas.

Guarding the key border crossing between Lisbon and Madrid (Portugal’s and Spain’s capitals, respectively), Elvas was extensively fortified between the 17th and the 19th centuries, becoming the largest bulwarked dry ditch system in the world and the best surviving example of the Dutch system of fortification.
The key feature of this fortified system was the 8 km long “Aqueduto da Amoreira” (Amoreira Aqueduct), dated from the 17th century, that supplied the city with water. This way, Elvas was prepared to withstand a lengthy siege.

In June 2012, Elvas was classified as a World Heritage Site. Under the name Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications, this site comprises:

Amoreira Aqueduct

Amoreira Aqueduct

– “Aqueduto da Amoreira” (Amoreira Aqueduct)
– “Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça” (Fort of Graça)
– “Forte de Santa Luzia” (Fort of Santa Luzia)
– “Fortim de São Mamede” (Fortlet of São Mamede)
– “Fortim de São Pedro” (Fortlet of São Pedro)
– “Fortim de São Domingos” (Fortlet of São Domingos)
– “Centro Histórico de Elvas” (Elvas Historic Center)

Before we cross the city walls to visit Elvas Historic Center, we walked to “Santuário do Senhor Jesus da Piedade” (Sanctuary of the Lord Jesus of Mercy). This Church, dated from the 18th century, is located next to the “Parque da Piedade” (Piedade Park), where two of the most important festivities in the South of Portugal take place. I am talking about the “Romaria do Senhor Jesus da Piedade” (Revelry of the Lord of Mercy) and the “Feira de São Mateus” (St. Mathews Fair).

Corner inner door

Corner inner door

Back to Elvas, we passed under the Amoreira Aqueduct and entered the Fortified city by one of the three doors of the 17th century walls – “Porta exterior da esquina” (Corner outer door). Because of the “Capela da Nossa Senhora da Conceição” (Chapel of Our Lady of Conceição) built over this entrance, the door is also known as “Porta da Nossa Senhora da Conceição” (Door of Our Lady of Conceição).

Within the walls, there are several barracks and other military buildings, as well as churches and monasteries.

Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção

Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção

Immediately after we cross the “Porta exterior da esquina”, on the left side, there’s the “Paiol de Nossa Senhora da Conceição” (Magazine of Our Lady of Conceição), easily recognized by its circula architecture and by the 3 lightning rods surrounding it. It was used to store military munitions.

“Quartel do Trem” (Barrack of the Trem) is one of the several former military buildings in Elvas that have now other use than the military one. This former Barrack where grenades, riffles and wood carts were made, nowadays houses the “Escola Superior Agrária de Elvas” (Agrarian School of Elvas).

Two of the religious properties we passed by were open and we had the opportunity go visit them. These were:
-“Igreja das Domínicas” (Church of the Dominic Nuns), from the 16th century, has a rare octagonal architecture.
-“Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção” (Church of Our Lady of Assunção), former Cathedral of Elvas, originally built in Manueline style, during the 16th century.

Castle of Elvas

Castle of Elvas

We went to “Igreja dos Terceiros” (Church of the Thirds) and to “Convento de Santa Clara”, located next to each other, to look for a geocache. This one made us to walk around and around, but then we realized that it was hidden in another level…

We stopped next to “Castelo de Elvas” (Elvas Castle) to eat something and to enjoy the view from there. Unfortunately, the castle was closed, so it was not possible for us to go inside.

Next to the Castle there’s another magazine, the “Paiol de Santa Bárbara” (Magazine of Saint Barbara), which we recognized by the lightning rods surrounding it.

As we were passing by the “Meio-Baluarte de S. João da Corujeira” (S. João da Corujeira Half-Bulwark), we saw an open gate for what looked like a garden. We approached that entrance to figure out what that garden was. It was a cemetery, the “Cemitério dos Ingleses” (British Cemetery).

British Cemetery

British Cemetery

The British Cemetery of Elvas was inaugurated in 1811, when the body of the Major General Daniel Hoghton, killed in the Battle of Albuera (16 May 1811), was buried in there. In that same year, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel White and Lieutenant Colonel James Ward Oliver were also buried in there. Some years later, in 1850, Major William Nicholas Bull, who served in the 20th and 21st Battalions of the 2nd Regiment of the “Brigada Real da Marinha” (Navy Royal Brigade), was buried in the same site. His wife, Caroline Bull, was buried next to him when she died (1863). All these five graves are surrounded by a cast iron railing.

On the cemetery wall there are several memorial plaques in remembrance of the military men who died in the cause of freedom and independence during the Peninsula War.

23_elvas_fortificacao

That is a quiet and beautiful place. The Cemetery garden was very well taken care and the view from that site is fabulous!
Being in there made me to reflect about all those brave men who fought for freedom and independence. Many of them giving their lives for that cause, dying without knowing if they died for nothing or not, leaving their wives widows and their children with no father. Others, who survived, but lost an hand, a leg, two arms, an eye…
It makes me wonder, were I in their position, would I have the courage to fight like them, too? I hope I never find the answer…

After we left the Cemetery, we climbed to the “Muralha dos Terceiros” (Fortified Wall of the Thirds) and walked along it. The soldiers physiological needs were not neglected, since there was a latrine in that wall.

Military Museum of Elvas

Military Museum of Elvas

We went for a small walk outside the Fortification. We left through “Porta de São Vicente” (Door of Saint Vincent), went to “Fonte da Prata (Silver Fountain) and then we returned by the same way.

Back to within the walls, we went to “Museu Militar de Elvas” (Military Museum of Elvas). As Monday is the Museum’s closing day, the tank and the howitzer placed outside the museum, were the only items we were allowed to see.

On the way back to the car, we went to Cantarinha Pastry Shop to buy the traditional pastry of Elvas – sericaia. It was sold in the clay plate where it was cooked. Because of it, we had to pay 2€ extra, which would be refunded if we returned the plate.
Sericaia is a dessert made of milk, eggs and sugar, it is sprinkle with a generous amount of cinnamon and then it is cooked in the oven. Usually, sericaia is served with “ameixas D’Elvas” (Elvas plums), which are a specific variety of plums soaked in sugar syrup. We ate it simple, without the plums, and we enjoyed a lot this dessert. Next time we have to try it with the plums.

It was about 15:00 when we had lunch. We went to the car, where our food was, and took it to a place where we found a seat. We prepared tuna and sardine sandwiches.

Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré

Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Nazaré

After lunch, we visited the “Fortim de S. Pedro” (Fortlet of São Pedro), which is a small fort from the 19th century. That place was a deception, not because of its small size, but because it was being used as a toilet and as a garbage bin. We had to pay attention to where we put our feet, otherwise we could step on something unwanted.
The small magazine to store munitions and the moat that surrounds the fortlet are its most relevant features.

These small fortresses around the fortified city were very important to improve the defense system. They were built in strategic sites and gave assistance during an attack.

Fort of Santa Luzia

Fort of Santa Luzia

Fortunately, “Forte the Santa Luzia” (Santa Luzia Fort) is quite the opposite. This Fort from the 17th century is well preserved and it is a stately fort!
It has four bulwarks, with a square redoubt in the center, where the Governor’s House, the church and a bomb proof vaulted house are located. It also comprises several barracks and two cisterns that could supply 300 to 400 men for two to three months siege.

Nowadays, the Fort houses the Santa Luzia Fort Military Museum, which is closed on Mondays, too.
Definitely, Monday is the worst day to visit Elvas, everything is closed.

The inside was interdicted, but not the outside area. We walked around the Fort, observed its walls, the moat, had a glimpse of the Governor’s House and we got a better perception of its size. It’s really huge!

We observed another fortlet from Santa Luzia Fort. I suppose it is “Fortim de São Mamede” (Fortlet of São Mamede). From where we were it looked like that fortlet was converted into a farm.

Fort of Graça

Fort of Graça

On the way back to the car, we visited “Porta de Olivença” (Olivança Door), the only door that we had not seen yet.
All these 3 doors are very narrow and with low visibility, clearly they were not made to the current car traffic. In order to alert other drivers that may come on the opposite direction, each driver honks the horn as he goes through the doors. You can imagine how deafening it is.
But the worst is to go through the doors by foot. The passages are narrow, there’s no pavement and there are always cars going in and out of the fortification.

While we were visiting Elvas, we were also collecting some data required to calculate the coordinates of a geocache related to the fountains in Elvas. The coordinates that we obtained were from a place a bit far from where we were. Therefore, we stopped there when we were leaving Elvas, by car.

We made another stop, not too far from Elvas, to visit the “Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça” (Fort of Graça), officially called “Forte Conde Lippe” (Conde Lippe Fort).

Fort of Graça

Fort of Graça

Graça Hill is one of the highest sites in that region, having a huge strategic relevance. This hill was conquered twice in the period of one century, which was very costly to Portugal. In 1763 D. José I ordered the construction of a Fort in there. The Fort was concluded in 1792. In the coming years it had an important role in the defense of Portugal from the Spanish and French attacks. Over time it was loosing its defensive role.

At the time we visited Fort of Graça (2014), it was in a very bad state of conservation. There were some signboards in there that suggested us that the Fort was going to suffer some maintenance. I hope it is true. That place offers a great view over Elvas and all the surrounding area. It’s a pity the Fort is so damaged.

We were enjoying a lot to be in there and we would like to explore the whole Fort, but it was getting late and we had a long trip ahead of us.

Elvas really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it had so many interesting places to visit. To do a proper visit, we should have stayed there for at least 2-3 days.

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1 Response to “Trip to North Alentejo – day 3

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