Monsaraz, the village that imposes itself on the Alentejo landscape

by Nuno Madeira
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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The whole municipality of Reguengos de Monsaraz is very well framed in the magnificent plain of Alentejo with the blue water of Alqueva as a contrast, and this piece of Portugal was not yet on my resume.

I took the opportunity of a long weekend to make a short trip through the interior of Portugal, taking the opportunity to know the Megalithic Route of Reguengos de Monsaraz, the village of Monsaraz, then heading south along the banks of Alqueva to Mourão, Aldeia da Luz, Moura, Serpa, Minas de São Domingos and finally finish the trip in Mértola.

This region is intrinsically linked to the agriculture of cereals, olive, and vineyards, and the climate is quite hot and dry in summer, with rainy but short winters.

More and more we see tourism encouraging visits to the whole municipality inviting outdoor activities in permanent contact with nature such as boat trips in Alqueva or horseback riding, among others.

The occupation of Monsaraz dates back to prehistoric times, and several hundred archaeological sites from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic (megalithic), Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age are recorded in the region.

Romanized and occupied by Visigoths, Arabs, Mozarabis and Jews, this area fell under the rule of Islam in the 8th century, which occupied part of the Iberian Peninsula.

Belonging to the kingdom of Badajoz, one of the largest and main focuses of Arab culture, was reconquered in 1167 in an expedition led by Geraldo Without Fear. But the takeover of Monsaraz lasts a few years, falling in 1173 under the domination of the Almôada Caliphate, in the Portuguese sequence in Badajoz.

Only in 1232, D. Sancho II, with the help of the Knights Templar, manages to reconquer definitively Monsaraz for the Christian domain, making his donation to the Order of the Temple, which remains with the task of his defense and repopulation.

But the battles did not stop for this reconquest. Although part of the fortification was already erected in 1381, an English force took the village by assault, plundering it, and four years later it was again invaded by Castilian troops. It was only in 1385 that Monsaraz was recovered by D. Nuno Álvares Pereira.

In 1640 the independence from the Spanish Crown is proclaimed and the Bragança dynasty begins the construction of modern fortifications on the Portuguese border line, and Monsaraz is no exception. The building advances around the castle, involving the town with walls adapted to the artillery shots.

Monsaraz, in addition to its rich historical heritage, and its exquisite landscape, still possesses a strong identity marked by traditional customs that are reflected in gastronomy, wine and handicrafts.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6578″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Arriving in Monsaraz, by the Municipal Road 514, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the medieval fortification at the top of one of the few pieces of land elevated throughout the plain of the municipality.

As it will be possible to see further on, this wall encompasses several monuments, such as the Mother Church, Casa da Misericórdia, the São José Chapel and the whole of the houses.

The magnificence of this fortress in the landscape that surrounds it makes Monsaraz a space of excellence for all kinds of artistic and cultural actions. It is not for nothing that Monsaraz is said to be an open-air museum.

The first stop is still before entering the walls of the village, in the north zone.

Ermida de São Bento

The Ermida de São Bento, founded at the end of the 16th century with donations from the residents of Monsaraz, had as its main objective to serve the religious feasts of the village. With a simple rectangular structure, it is divided into two planes that correspond to the nave and the main chapel.

The hermitage is in an advanced state of degradation and could not find the reason for it. Probably a fire has occurred that destroyed almost completely the upper structure, and now, what most evidence this monument, of abandoned appearance, are some strips of signage and signs indicating the danger by the state in which it is.

Even so, it is worth the visit, not for the hermitage itself, but for the view, they have around them.

With a huge park around them, you will have a view over Monsaraz that is not possible from any other side and, looking to the East/ Eastside, you will also be able to see in the distance, beyond the Alqueva, the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Orada and the Xerez Cromeleque, places that I will speak later.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6579″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6581″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6582″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

Capela de São João Batista

At the doors of the fortification is the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, which has been included, since the 17th century, in the bastion of St. John.

It has a cubic form, of Moorish character, and led some researchers to think it was an ancient Arabic vat when others attributed to it a five-century origin, a period in which mudejarism strongly influenced the architecture of Alentejo.

In its interior, without access, there are paintings made by Eborese artists in 1622.

Beside it, a complex of ruins that can be crossed through an elevated bridge that also becomes a balcony overlooking the Alqueva lake.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6584″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Now ready to enter the fortified part of the village, we have access to its interior through four large doors.

The Porta da Vila and the Porta de Évora, the main ones, are composed of a gothic arch, while the Porta da Alcoba and the Porta do Buraco are composed of a full arch.

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. it is forbidden the transit of vehicles inside the fortification, except for vehicles for loading and unloading. And you can see why since the streets are narrow, the space for parking is almost non-existent and it is during this time that the village probably receives more visitors which makes them walk more comfortable and without the day-to-day problems.

By entering through the village gate, the main door and also the most characteristic one of Monsaraz, we can see the defensive structure protected by two towers.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6585″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The narrow streets of the village hide corners and nooks and crannies that create the sensation of dazzle and surprise not only caused by the landscape around them, but by the history that breathes and that shows as a testimony of lived times of its past.

The floor, which seems to be made of schist stone, although it can be a bit painful after some time walking with uncomfortable footwear, seems to have been placed with all the detail showing here also the beauty of this small village with walls covered in white.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6586″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6587″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

Cisterna

Following the Right Street, and turning on the first street on the left, we will find a gothic stone arch and underneath is the Cistern. Built-in the late Middle Ages, it was the main water reservoir inside the Monsaraz fortification.

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Without being able to see very well the interior, with a bit of luck, and light from the mobile phone or camera, it is still possible to see some water inside and the arches of the structure.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6588″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Climbing the stairs by the Cistern door you will reach the top of the Hole Gate and it is another good place to see all the exterior of the village fortification.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6590″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6589″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Continuing along Rua da Videiras, we will reach Largo Dom Nuno Álvares Pereira from the back of the church.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6591″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lagoa e Pelourinho de Monsaraz

The Church of Nossa Senhora da Lagoa was built in the second half of the 13th century being its oldest reference from the time of King D. Dinis, but with the arrival of the black plague that devastated the region, the original church disappeared during the reign of D. João I.

The construction of the current mother church is from the 16th century, based on the Renaissance style, with three naves supported by four Tuscan columns where traditional shale predominates.

Inside, which cannot be photographed, you will find the main altar composed of gilded wood carvings with two wood carvings that represent St. Augustine and St. Monica.

Still in the interior, decorated with artistic decorations from the 17th and 18th centuries, you will find eight side chapels and the tomb of Gomes Martins Silvestre, the first mayor and settler of Monsaraz, built-in Estremoz marble and whose front face shows the funeral procession where several figures parade, with a figure alluding to the activity of the Knight Templar at the top.

The time to visit the church is from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

In the same square is the Pelourinho de Monsaraz which establishes the symbol of jurisdiction and autonomy of the county.

The original pillory was lost with the 1755 earthquake although some of the elements were reused for the current one, built-in white marble from Estremoz and inspired by classical art.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6593″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6595″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6592″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

Capela de São José

Even before leaving the square, on the corner of Rua Direita, we found the Chapel of St. Joseph that was erected with the intention of ministering the divine offices of the prisoners in the district chair.

Founded in 1708, of simple and rectangular architecture, it is composed of a Gothic arch and was built on top of an old fourteenth-century house.

Unfortunately, this was another of the places that, although it was within the opening hours, it was not open.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6594″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]I had already mentioned the perfectly aligned schist floor and the whitewashed walls, but it is not only these two elements that remind us of the traditional Alentejo.

Whether through local commerce or through the few residents inside the fortification, there are details scattered all over the town such as a small vineyard which, besides giving color, also gives shade in a place that in summer can reach above 40º Celsius.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6596″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6597″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

Hospital do Espírito Santo e Casa da Misericórdia

Still, in the church square and pillory, we find the Hospital do Espírito Santo, a 13th-century building, and the Casa da Misericórdia, dating from the 16th century, which was incorporated into the complex of the former Hospital do Espírito Santo.

This hospital was a fundamental piece of assistance in the medieval era of Monsaraz as it was at the service of pilgrims from Andalusia and the Guadiana shore, and headed to Santa Maria de Terena.

It underwent major restoration and extension works in the 17th and 18th centuries, however, and although it had visited that place within what would have been the normal visiting hours, both the Hospital del Espíritu Santo and the Casa de la Misericordia were closed.

The Casa da Misericórdia, an old church of simple and rectangular architecture, is flanked by two small chapels adorned with gilded woodwork from the second half of the 18th century, with an image of the Lord Jesus of the Steps (patron saint of the village of Monsaraz), offered by the Duke of Bragança, D. Theodosius II.

Its foundation is associated to the action of the Duke D. Jaime de Bragança, donatário of the village, and in one of its annexed premises, there is a vast documental centre dated from the end of the 16th century.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Castelo e Fortificação Medieval

Construction of the Monsaraz fortification began after the Christian Reconquest but continued for several reigns.

With the objective of increasing the population in the area and its defense, not least because it played a fundamental role in border defense, King Alfonso III built the new citadel and five quadrangular towers that compose it.

During the reign of King D. Dinis, the Dungeon Tower and the external defense wall are built and later King Fernando finishes the work with the separation curtain of the Alcácer with the houses of the town.

From the whole wall, which delimits the Plaza de Armas and is made of schist and limestone, it is possible to have an incredible view over the lake of Alqueva and all the Alentejo plain that surrounds it.

Like the Ermida de São Bento, this is another privileged place to observe and breathe the true Alentejo.

Around 1830 the castle of Monsaraz’s square of arms was abandoned and in ruins. The inhabitants of Monsaraz took advantage of the materials of the old ruined buildings to rebuild the square of arms, now transformed into an arena where bullfighting takes place in honour of the Lord Jesus of the Steps.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6598″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6599″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6601″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6602″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6603″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6604″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6606″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]After the tour through the interior of the fortified village, it is time to take advantage of the rest of the time to visit 3 interesting points further away from the village. These can be visited before visiting the village, but I preferred to visit the village first as it was my main intention and left the rest of the time as extra.

Leaving Monsaraz in a northerly direction, you turn right at the roundabout in Ferragudo, and a little more than 100 meters away there is a junction on the left in basalt stone that you should follow until you reach the square of the convent.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Convento de Nossa Senhora da Orada

Begun in 1700 by Prior John Calvary, it was only inaugurated in 1741 with the membership of the Barefoot Augustinian Order.

According to local traditions, the Orada de Monsaraz has its name associated with D. Nuno Álvares Pereira who prayed here before the battles against Castile.

When the Orada Convent Foundation was instituted, the convent was in ruins. From 1988 to 1994 the Foundation focused its activity exclusively on the restoration and rehabilitation of the space, maintaining the traditional techniques and the layout of the building.

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Hundreds of students of Licentiate and Master of Architecture participated in this restoration.

However, nowadays, the Convent is not in ruins and shows many signs of abandonment.

Outside there are no large traces of rubbish, but underneath the arch before the entrance to the Convento, the rubbish accumulates much because of birds that found there a place to make their nest.

Its exterior is wide and the palm trees, although small foliage, with the bottom of the Alentejo plain, seem to want to transport us to another place.

This space, together with the Sherry Cromeleque, is widely used by professionals and night photographers.

Being a sheltered space of light pollution, it also takes advantage of the building for photographic frames that can be a success.

I tried my luck myself, yes, because night photography is not just pointing and pressing the shutter, and while I tried to do some photos I came across more people taking pictures there.

However, I had some difficulty because I discovered that there was a road south of the Convento which, with cars driving along the road, it is very likely that the light from the headlights will be reflected in the Convento which will make it come out too bright in the photo.

Perhaps the idea is to photograph as late as possible, so that there is no traffic, and thus not run the risk of having too much light on the façade.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6609″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6610″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_single_image image=”6611″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]

Cromeleque do Xerez

The Xerez Chromeleque together with the Almendres Chromeleque near Evora should be the closest we have to the famous Stonehenge in England.

This type of construction, usually displayed on south-facing slopes, is a set of several menhirs arranged in one or several circles, in ellipses, in rectangles, in semicircles or even in more complex structures like the Almendres Chromeleque.

This megalithic monument presents a singular quadrangular format composed of 50 granite menhirs, with heights varying between 1.20 – 1.50 meters, and develops around a central menhir with about 4 meters of height that present on one of its faces several marks, probably of graphic inscriptions.

Identified in 1969, this chromeleque must have been erected in the early 4000 and mid 3000 BC and is associated with the cult of the stars and nature, being considered a place of religious rituals and tribal meetings.

Perhaps for these reasons, it is one of the preferred places for long exposure night photography.

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Praia Fluvial do Alqueva

Already with a nautical leisure center on the shores of the largest artificial lake in Europe, since 2010, the Municipality of Reguengos de Monsaraz wanted to take advantage of this space, already endowed with some infrastructures such as a café/restaurant, beach ramp, anchorage, sanitary facilities, public showers, children’s playground, and picnic area, to improve not only these infrastructures but also to create the first river beach with the Blue Flag of the Alqueva reservoir.

This new space will certainly attract more visitors to this municipality that stands out for the typical Alentejo landscape but also for the peace that is found here.

In addition to a grassy area, and more than 4,000 m² of sand, bathers will find several shady areas, either by the existing trees or by placing sun umbrellas or awnings.

A volleyball net will delight the youngsters on the sand and, on the water, a floating platform invites relaxing baths in the calm waters of Alqueva.

On the beach, you will find, among other things, Blue Flag information panels (with water quality, code of conduct, environmental education activities, beach notice, map of the bathing area and sensitive areas), a 100-seat Parking Lot, a Children’s Park, First Aid Station, Public Toilets, Showers, Ecopontos, Café/Restaurant.

Both the Parking Lot and the entire beach area is prepared for people with reduced mobility.

To reach this Alqueva beach area is very easy. Just follow the signs of the Club Náutico/Praia Fluvial and about 5 km away you are in the oasis of Alentejo. Below the map. Here the coordinates

Until now the Alentejo only had one river beach with a blue flag, which was the Mina de São Domingos, in the district of Beja, because now the district of Évora already has its river streak with a blue flag and with all the conditions.

A huge investment, but undoubtedly well spent in an Alqueva that besides the use for agriculture in Alentejo and nautical tourism can be used for many more river beaches in this extensive lake.

Also, one more point on this beach is to have behind you the historical village of Monsaraz, so in your visit, you can enjoy the day on the river beach and the night in the historic village of Monsaraz.

Just a few details to consider:

  • The sand is of thick sand, so those with thin skin will suffer when walking here.
  • It is also an area of some wind in some days that may not be able to hold the parasol.
  • Temperatures in the middle of the Alentejo, in summer, can go up to around 40 degrees, which means that in the afternoon it can get very hot and it is recommended that you take due care with sun exposure.

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Points of Interest not to be missed in Monsaraz

1. Ermida de São Bento38.4466331,-7.378754 | 38° 26′ 47.879″ N 7° 22′ 43.514″ W
2. Capela de São João Batista38.4438923,-7.379341 | 38° 26′ 38.012″ N 7° 22′ 45.628″ W
3. Porta da Vila: 38.4445414,-7.3801779 | 38° 26′ 40.349″ N 7° 22′ 48.640″ W 
4. Cisterna
38.4439162,-7.3800179 | 38° 26′ 38.098″ N 7° 22′ 48.064″ W
5. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lagoa e Pelourinho38.4431321,-7.3807444 | 38° 26′ 35.276″ N 7° 22′ 50.680″ W
6. Hospital do Espírito Santo e Casa da Misericórdia38.4431311,-7.3808503 | 38° 26′ 35.272″ N 7° 22′ 51.061″ W
7. Capela de São José38.4433693,-7.3806947 | 38° 26′ 36.129″ N 7° 22′ 50.501″ W
8. Castelo de Monsaraz e Fortificação Medieval38.4422591,-7.3817235 | 38° 26′ 32.133″ N 7° 22′ 54.205″ W
9. Convento de Nossa Senhora da Orada38.4547881,-7.3737855 | 38° 27′ 17.237″ N 7° 22′ 25.628″ W
10. Cromeleque do Xerez38.4533739,-7.3710797 | 38° 27′ 12.146″ N 7° 22′ 15.887″ W
11. Praia Fluvial do Alqueva38.4346521,-7.3504965 | 38° 26′ 4.748″ N 7° 21′ 1.787″ W[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

Other Points of Interest in Monsaraz

Casa da Inquisição: 38.442786,-7.3817031 | 38° 26′ 34.030″ N 7° 22′ 54.131″ W
Igreja de Santiago: 38.4436341,-7.3807598 | 38° 26′ 37.083″ N 7° 22′ 50.735″ W
Museu do Fresco: 38.4432733,-7.3805947 | 38° 26′ 35.784″ N 7° 22′ 50.141″ W
Casa do Juiz de Fora: 38.4441933,-7.380182 | 38° 26′ 39.096″ N 7° 22′ 48.655″ W
Ermida de Santa Catarina: 38.4445473,-7.3717571 | 38° 26′ 40.370″ N 7° 22′ 18.326″ W
Ermida de São Lázaro: 38.4423044,-7.3758667 | 38° 26′ 32.296″ N 7° 22′ 33.120″ W[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][templatera id=”8943″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Monsaraz Map

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