The city of Elvas is located near the border between Portugal and Spain and is on the main highway between Lisbon and Madrid. The town is believed to have been originally developed as a location by the Romans and it has suffered many conflicts in its history.
It was liberated from the occupying Moors in 1229 and since that date in a period of some 600 years, it suffered numerous attacks and was the subject of peace treaties between the neighbouring Spain.
During the War of Independence between the two countries (1640-1668), the battle of Linhas de Elvas in 1659 was notable for the decisive defeat of the invading Spanish who had besieged the Portuguese army in the town and was then successfully relieved by Portuguese troops from Estremoz.
In its more recent history its claim to fame was when it was used by the Duke of Wellington as his headquarters in his siege of the neighbouring Spanish town of Badajoz.
There are two main impressive visual sights linked to this city. Firstly, the well-preserved 17th Century fortifications of Fort de Santa Luzia to the north of the old town, and secondly, the impressive Auqueduto de Amoreira. The first was designed on the principles of the French architect Marquis de Vauban.
The old town was completely surrounded by a series of strong walls that strategically provide protection from most angles of possible attack. The Aqueduct is older in origin as the need to supplement the original town’s water supply was already acute even in the 15th Century.
Work was started in 1498 and for various reasons it took over 124 years to complete this 8 kilometres long construction with 843 arches that in some places reaches 30 metres in height.
The same architect also designed the Cathedral Nossa Senhora da Assunção that has been since remodelled several times. The origin of the castle within the old town is remote but it recorded as being rebuilt in 1226 and later subject to further alterations and enlargement during the following centuries.
The plain exterior of the Church of Nossa Senhora dos Aflitos hides the fact that it was originally a Templar church. The interior is lined with 17th Century tiles that reach into the cupola. Close by is a Manueline Pillory with its hooks as a morbid reminder of punishment in older times.
Located within the bastion of São João da Carujeiro on the eastern wall of the castle is perhaps the oldest British military cemetery in Europe. Plaques record the death of soldiers from British Regiments that occurred during the Battle of Albuhera in 1811.
The surrounding area is famed for its production of quality plums which are then conserved in a honey mixture.
To the northeast of Elvas is the country town of Campo Maior whose name is by legend based on three families that made their home in the “bigger field (campo maior)”. It past history is rather tragic as in 1732 the stored gunpowder in the castle was struck by lightning and it virtually destroyed most of the standing buildings and with it some 1,500 people.
The morbid Chapel Capela dos Ossos that is entirely faced with human bones dates from 1766 as a permanent reminder of this dreadful event. The town later came to prominence during the French invasion when Lord Beresford led an Anglo-Portuguese attack on the occupying French troops. They were quickly defeated and the King of Portugal granted the title of “Marquis de Campo Maior” to Beresford.
In contrast to their sad history, the inhabitants of the town in September of each year celebrate with a very joyful “Festa” by covering the narrow streets with a roof made up of thousands of paper flowers under which they hold daily parades and dancing. Each street organizes its own decoration under great secrecy, as the event is considered very competitive with prizes to be won. During the “Festa” many thousands of visitors travel from far and wide to visit the event, particularly from neighbouring Spain.
Further to the north and nearer to the Spanish border is the small fortified town of Ouguela. History records a romantic defence of this town when in the Battle of Toro the decision of who was to be the owner of the castle was decided by a fight between the two opposing leaders in a fateful duel in which both died from wounds.
Later in 1762 Brás de Carvalho also defeated the Spanish with a heroic defence of the town. To the north of Elvas are the towns of Arronches and Monteforte, both rich in history and worth visiting.
To the south of Elvas on the River Guadiana is the small village of Juromenha that was once a reasonably large fortified garrison. Within the standing walls there is nothing left but ruins to testify to the one-time importance of this fortification. There is a legend that the name of the place has been taken from the sister of the local Lord who felt so disgraced by his sister’s amorous involvements he locked her in the main tower of the castle until she went mad and eventually died.
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