Beja, Portugal Tourist Attractions
The old town of Beja, the Roman Pax Julia (of which some remains survive: foundations of walls on the north side of the town and a gate on the south side), is commandingly perched on a hill in the fertile plain of Baixo Alentejo.
It is the largest town in Alentejo after Évora and is chief town of the district and an important commercial center, especially for agricultural produce. In recent years a number of modern and purpose-built hotels have been built around the Old Town. More stylish accommodation is available at the pousada opened in 1994 in the Convento de Sao Francisco; this is one of the most beautiful state-run hotels in Portugal.TownscapeAlthough the little town of Beja has no very remarkable sights to boast of its many fine old buildings and winding alleys lined with gleaming white houses, some of them with charming iron grilles, windows, doorways and covered arcades, make its old town well worth a visit on any tour of Portugal. The best place to rest after a sightseeing walk is the pretty little park or on the lawned area with a simple cafe on the Praça Diogo Fernandes. There are parking loting facilities in the center on the Largo dos Duques de Beja under tall trees near the convent.
Convent of the Conception
The starting point for a tour of Beja's old town is possibly the Praça da Concaiçao, embellished with a modern statue (1958) of Queen Eleanor (1458-1525). In this square is the surviving part of the Convent of the Conception (Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao), a small house of Poor Clares founded by the Infante Dom Fernando and his wife Dona Brites and built between 1459 and 1506. It shows clear Manueline features and currently houses the regional museum.In this convent lived the nun, Mariana Alcoforado (1640-1723) who, in 1665, from her window first saw the Chevalier de Chamilly. After getting to know him through her brother she embarked on an affair that ended with Chamilly's return to France in 1667. She is supposed to have sent her lover five passionate letters that were first published in 1667. These love letters which are enshrined in international literature as the "Lettres Portugaises" (letters of a Portuguese Nun) were probably, in fact, written not by the nun but by the Frenchman Gabriel-Joseph Guillerague (1636-1715).
The Convento N.S. da Conceiçao, richly decorated with talha, and the cloister with its beautiful 16th century azulejo decoration, form part of the Museu Regional. Its collections, which are well worth seeing, include archeological exhibits, paintings, one of Portugal's finest private collections of azulejos, coins, folk art, costumes and furniture.
Diagonally opposite the Convento N.S. da Conceiçao is the church of Santa Maria (13th C.). Its main facade is decorated with four small towers linked by Gothic arches.
Praça da República
Opposite the entrance to the Convento N.S. da Conceiçao cloisters an alley leads through the old town to the Praça da República, the focus of life in Beja and the site of a fine Manueline pelourinho (pillory column).
Igreja da Misericórdia
At the northwest end of the Praça da República stands the church of the Misericórdia, which was originally built by the Infante Dom Luís in 1550 as a market hall and was later converted, by the addition of a chapel, into a church with a very spacious portico. The original function of the building, with its nine bays of vaulting which are borne on columns, can still be recognized.
Past the Igreja da Misericórdia and above the town to the north is the massive Castle, built by King Dinis I about 1300 on the remains of a Roman fortress; it has a handsome crenellated tower, built partly of marble, from which there is a fine view; it is 40m/131ft tall, making it the highest castle tower in Portugal.On the lower floors of the castle are a small chapel and a large room with magnificent stellar vaulting.
Opening hours: May 1 to Oct 31: 10am-6pm; Closed: Mon
Nov 1 to Apr 30: 9am-4pm
Nov 1 to Apr 30: 9am-4pm
Entrance fee: FREE
Capela de Santo Amaro
Near the Castelo, beyond the Roman Évora Gate, stands the early Romanesque church of Santo Amaro. This oldest church in the town now houses a Visigothic Museum.
Ermida de Santo André
The Ermida de Santo André lies Southwest of the town center, on the main road to Lisbon. It was founded in 1162 in thanksgiving for the recovery of the town from the Moors.
Feira de Agosto
A few attractions of note are to be found outside the town of Beja.
Ferreira do Alentejo
25km/15mi west of Beja lies the little town of Ferreira do Alentejo (alt. 141m/462ft; pop. 6,000) with a 16th C. parish church and the church of the Misericórdia with a 16th C. retable.
30km/19mi southeast of Beja is the quaint little walled town of Serpa (alt. 230m/755ft; pop. 4,800), still known by the name it bore in Roman times. Above the town are the ruins of a 13th C. castle which affords a superb view of the town and surrounding countryside. The narrow lanes of the old town are lined with white houses, many of them faced with azulejos. Other features of interest in Serpa are the Gothic church of Santa Maria (13th C.; polychrome azulejo decoration, 17th C., in the interior), the former convents of Sao Paulo and Sao António (15th-16th C.; cloister) and the remains of an ancient aqueduct at the Porta de Beja.
Built at the site for the former Roman town of Mirtilis, Mértola is a picturesque old town with narrow alleys and a noticeable Moorish influence.