Exploring Portugal: Alentejo and Beja

Beja is the administrative centre for Southern Alentejo and it was administration that took us there today. Mr P had to renew one of his residence permits — there are several — so he could renew his driving licence.

Beja has been a strategically valuable population centre since Celtic times. It was named Pax Julia by Julius Caesar in 48 BC. Emperor Augustus renamed the thriving town “Pax Augusta”. Next to take over the region were the Visigoths, the town then fell to the invading Umayyad army in 713. This was the start of approximately 1000 years of warring between Christians, Muslims and the Moors. The inhabitants of the city have been massacred and the buildings razed to the ground more than once in it violent history. In spite of all this destruction and reconstruction it retains a certain historic charm.

The Castle that stands today was rebuilt on roman foundations in 1310 under King Denis. You can if you have the time climb to the top of the tower — over 200 steps — the reward is said to be one of the best views in Alentejo.

Next to the Castle is one of the oldest churches in Beja – Igreja de Santa Maria. This building has been a Visigoth Temple and a Moorish Mosque before reconstruction in the fifteenth century. It functions both as a church and a museum. Inside it retains the richly decorated Visigoth capitals used in the initial construction, making this church a unique example of this period’s architecture.

Another beautiful building, Beja cathedral is a hall-church with three naves covered by vaults in Baroque and eclectic style, created by Jorge Rodrigues. Inside the cathedral, there is a set of 17th century altars.

This beautiful former convent now houses the regional museum of Beja. The museum presents sacral art, Azulejos and other items of archaeological interest.

In the old town the narrow streets are lined by Azulejos – or tiled houses. Tiled houses are part of the Portuguese architectural heritage. Each area has its own definitive style.  In Beja green and white is favoured, in our area Southern Alentejo the colours are blue and white.

We came home the long way — it was a beautiful day — summer is coming and the yellow of spring is giving way to the purple of summer.