During the Roman occupation the town was known as “Amoea”. Its history links the town with many military actions and the different armies have occupied it.
The Portuguese King Dom Dinis in his dynastic struggles with his brother in 1295-1297 spent over 5 months besieging the occupants before they surrendered.
In 1704 it suffered another shorter siege when the British troops under Stanhope were taken prisoner. During the winter of the Peninsular War (1808-1814) against the French it was again used as headquarters for the British troops assisting the Portuguese.
A town located close to the border of Spain that has strong religious background and this is evident by the number of churches and monasteries dating from the 13th Century.
The oldest is probably the Igreja do Mosteiro de São Francisco that dates from 1275, and later reconstructed in the 16th and 18th Centuries. The ruined castle is of medieval origin. The town museum has on show a collection of sacred art. The Casa de Poeta José Régio is a museum devoted to the works of this 15th Century poet.
Of particular interest is the fine 16th Century windows to be seen on the outside of the home of Dom Nuno de Sousa. About the same period the town developed commerce by creating an industry in textiles, tapestries and silk cloths, and there are several remaining fine homes to testify to its success.
The Cathedral dates from the 16th Century and has some additions from the 18th Century such as the Baroque façade. Adjacent to the cathedral is a small Municipal Museum that houses a very broad collection of items. The Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Conceição dates from c. 1518 and within is the tomb of its founder Dom Jorge de Melo. The two chimneys that dominate the town acts as the guide to the a Museum related to the cork industry which has also played an important part in the economics of Portalegre.
Portalegre acts as centre to a region of interesting touristy value. Within easy reach are the towns of Crato, Castelo de Vide, Marvão, and the region of Serra de São Mamede. The outwardly small town of Crato belies its historic past.
In the 13th Century this town was given to the powerful Order of Hospitallers who originally assisted so capably in the fight against the Moors in the reign of Dom Sancho II. The town became their headquarters in 1350 and the Order later changed its name to the Order of Knights of St. John. Both King Manuel I and his son King João III held their wedding ceremonies in this town in the house that now houses an interesting museum.
In 1356 Dom Álvaro Gonçalves Pereira, the Master of the Order of Knights of St. John, commenced the building to the north of the town of the attractive Monastery Santa Maria da Flôr da Rosa. The Order was located in the Monastery until the reign of Dom Luís and in 1527 when it was replaced by the Order of Malta.
The structure was virtually destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 but was partially rebuilt by the order of the Marquês de Pombal and today it has been converted into an attractive Pousada. The Spanish in 1662 sacked and burned the town of Crato to the ground and destroyed most structures that would today give any suggestion of its original importance.
To the west of Crato is the Spa of Monte de Pedra and to the north is the 3.000 BC Anta do Tapadão that is considered the second largest megalithic shelter in Portugal. To the north of Portalegre is the nearby town of Castelo de Vide that is a pretty Spa town with charming small streets, a Jewish Quarter, and crowned by a 13th Century castle that was destroyed by an explosion.
To the southwest of Portalegre is Alto do Chão with its 14th Century castle that was virtually destroyed by John of Austria and his army of Spanish troops in the 18th Century. Close to this town is the Coudelária de Alter, the home of the internationally famous breed of Lusitanian horse "Alter Real". This stud was founded in 1748 to specifically breed from originally Andalusia stock the nimble classic purebred bay or brown “Alter Real”.
There is an interesting museum devoted to “The Horse and the Man” that is seriously impressive. It includes a few very special historic Portuguese armour rescued from the salerooms from outside Portugal. Also, there is an interesting falconry with working exhibitions normally once a day.
Further to the south of Alter do Chão is the Spa Cabeço de Vide. The Serra de São Mamederegion stretches south from the town along the Spanish boarder to Campo Maior. An area of 320 square kilometres that in 1989 was set-aside as a protected Natural Park.
The visitor will find a fascinating selection of fauna and flora within this region. Wild boar, red deer, genet, otters, griffin vultures, eagles, are but a few of the many species of wild life to be discovered. There are several castles in the area including and an impressive panoramic view of the Park that can be seen from another 13th Century castle ruin at Marvão that also encloses an walled historic and attractive small village.
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