Beja Tourist Guide, Alentejo, Portugal
Beja is a thriving historical hub, set on the highest point of the surrounding Alentejo plains. Founded by the Romans under the rule of Julius Caesar, it was subsequently a Moorish stronghold for over 400 years. Beja’s rich history has been preserved in its architecture and can still be glimpsed in the narrow tangle of cobbled streets in the historic centre. Many buildings are whitewashed in the traditional Alentejano style, adorned with Moorish chimneys and intricate azulejo tiles.
The most prominent historical structure is the medieval Castelo de Beja. The imposing marble keep tower is the tallest in Portugal. Climb the spiral staircase to the battlements, which offer an incomparable view over Beja and the golden plains.
Beside the castle, the whitewashed church of Santo Amaro dates back to the 5th century. A example of architecture from the Visigothic period, it is now the site of an archaeological museum with a rare collection of artifacts.
The grandiose Convento de Nossa Senhora da Conceição is a national monument and presently the site of the Regional Museum. The entrance hall leads to a gilded chapel with exquisite azulejos adorning the walls and cloisters. There are also exhibits related to a tragic 17th century love affair, the controversial “Letters of a Portuguese Nun”. A nun from the convent allegedly wrote five passionate love letters to a French officer, which were later published and literarily acclaimed. Although their authenticity has never been proven, the romantic tale of forbidden love is a great attraction for Beja.
Since Roman times, Beja has flourished as an important agricultural centre. Local farmers continue to produce high-quality wheat, cork and olives - essential to the Portuguese diet of bread, wine and oil. A popular annual event is the Ovibeja agricultural fair, featuring regional produce, livestock markets, live music and handicrafts.
The delectable Portuguese doces conventuais (literally, “convent sweets”) find their roots in Beja. These traditional pastries originate from convents, where it was common for nuns and monks to raise chickens. The surplus eggs were made into simple cakes and sweets. A local specialty is pão de rala – a cake with almonds and pumpkin.
The Municipal Council has audio tours and bicycles for hire, an ideal way to explore the city. The many bars and restaurants offer friendly service and excellent local cuisine.
Venturing further out of town, the archaeological site of Mesas do Castelinho in Almodôvar and the 2000-year-old ruins of a Roman villa in Pisões are fascinating historical highlights of the region.
In the vast landscape of cork oaks and olive trees, Beja is commandingly situated as the capital of the Baixo Alentejo. With a wealth of architectural and archaeological diversity, Beja is a peaceful city with a strong historical heart.
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