This city is the capital of the Baixa Alentejo District and maintains attractive visible evidence of its historic background. It is recorded as existing in 48 AC after the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar gave it the name of Pax Julia and declared it as a regional capital.
However, there is evidence that the location was inhabited since the Bronze Age. The Town Square was originally the site of its Roman Forum. The Moors renamed the town when they occupied it, and but for a brief time in 715, they were firmly entrenched from 711 to 1162.
In this later year the Kings forces led by Fernão Gonçalves drove out the Moors who later in 1165 were also driven out of the neighbouring fortified town of Serpa. During the War of Independence between Spain and Portugal (1640-1667), Beja played its part more than once in being successfully attacked and occupied by the both sides of the conflict.
In more recent times the French sacked the city and massacred the inhabitants during the year 1808. In 1962 the now venerated General António Delgado led an army uprising that was destined to quickly fail against the strength of the Salazar regime.
The city with about 22.000 population has a number of ancient buildings and the name Beja as used today was given to it by the occupying Moors in the 6th Century.
The Convento da Nossa Senhora da Conceição dating from 1459 is both visually interesting and enjoys international fame from the 1669 French publication of the celebrated “Lettres Portugaises”. These were five lyric love letters by a 26 year-old nun named Mariana Alcoforado to her lover the Comte de Saint-Léger after he deserted her.
The Convent is an architectural mixture of Gothic, Manueline, Baroque, with Hispanic-Arab tiles. It also houses the Museu Regional da Rainha Dona Leonor.
This museum contains many items that reflect the various cultures that have influenced the region since Pre-Historic times. These take the form of ceramics, glass, bronze, iron, coins, mosaics, sculptures, carvings and art.
The 13th Century Capela dos Tumulos do Convento de São Francisco is attached to the building that has been rebuilt as a Pousada.
As you approach the City you can not fail to notice the 13th Century Torre de Menagem, the keep of the original castle built by Dom Dinis. The impressive tower stands 36 metres high and has an interior staircase of 183 steps that may be climbed.
Adjoining the castle walls the Igreja de Santo André dates back to the 4th Century and is one of the few standing Visigoth churches in Portugal. It also acts as a museum for this little know about period. A specialty of the town is the “Pão de Rala” bread-cake made with pumpkin.
To the north west of the Beja is the town of Alvito with pre-Roman origins. It boasts having the only castle built in Portugal that was not as a residence for its King. The Barons and Marquises of Alvito, and the Counts of Oriola, enjoyed such influential favour in the royal courts during the 15th and 16th Centuries that they were permitted to construct the palace that now has been converted into a charming Pousada.
There are several interesting buildings in this attractive small town that also date back to Roman times. The Chapel of São Sebastião is striking in its classical simplicity whilst inside are interesting frescos and underneath the building are some caves dating back to at least the 12th Century. In the town the 13th Century Parish Church is of architectural interest. Slightly further to the north is the Sanctuary of Santa Águeda that is worth a visit.
To the northeast of Beja is the town of Vidigueira with its rich association with the family of the explorer Vasco da Gama who acquired its rights from the King in 1519. Close to here, at Vila de Frades, are the 2nd Century Roman ruin of the Ermida de São Cucufate. This is the only remaining Roman villa with two floors in the whole of the Iberian peninsular and with frescos dating between the 1st and the 17th Century.
To the north of this town is another interesting place named Portel. The town lies beneath and around its commanding 14th Century castle. In history it played a part in freeing Portugal from the rule of the Castilians when a sympathetic monk betrayed his pro-Castilian master.
To the east of Beja in the direction of the Spanish border is the town of Serpa. This well fortified town with its interior 13th Century castle has had a long military history dating back to perhaps before 1.000 BC.
Today, the town provides a fascinating visit for any tourist with its abundance of historical and architectural remnants of the past and its fame for making cheese. Within this town are various Museums. A particular one is a fascinating private museum devoted to the history of the watch. It records 350 years of watch making with over 1.600 working pieces collected from all over the world.
This is one of the few museums of its kind outside of Switzerland. Also, particular to the inhabitants of this town is a special ancient chant that the inhabitants vocally render on public occasions and has a Gregorian sound.
To the north of Serpa is the ancient and once important fortified town of Moura. There exists here another fable or story that the town was taken from the Moors by the Christian forces with the help of a Princess who was so in love with a Knight that she opened the castle gates to allow the Christians to secretly enter and take the town.
The present ruins of the castle originally date back to the 14th Century. The castle and the later constructed town walls were both destroyed when occupied by the Spanish occupation in 1707. This town and its surroundings is also well established as the best area in Portugal for the production of quality olive oil.
To the east of this town on the border with Spain is the smaller town of Barrancos. This town has gained notoriety in recent years as it is the first location in Portugal where the inhabitants have reverted to the killing the bull in the bullring as is practiced in neighbouring Spain.
Beyond Beja to the south at Pisões on the road to Aljustrel, is a semi-excavated important Roman villa.
Further to the south east of Beja is the town of Mértola. This ancient small town is worth a visit as it has played an important role in the history of the region. This inland town was once well linked to the coast by means of the River Guadiana that today flows past as a very small river in comparison to what it must have been when trading ships sailed up from the coast to load produce.
Ruins from the Romans, Visigoths and Moors indicate the importance of the trade and copper mining that once made it so important. Beside the Castle, the are three interesting museums devoted to the different periods of occupation, one of which is in the basement of the Town Hall.
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|Festival de Nossa Senhora da Graça
||1st week August
|Festival de São Lourenço
||2nd week August
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