Monsaraz, the airy medieval village of Monsaraz, retains its former magic as few places in the world. Made of lime and schist, this place whispers, among the echo of our footsteps in its streets, magnificent stories of daring kings, knights Templar, brave people and ladies of simple beauty.
Suspended in time, the historic Alentejo village, one of the oldest in Portugal, is a must-see destination in your list of places to visit in Alentejo. Especially after winning in 2017 the “Monument Villages” category of the 7 Wonders of Portugal – Villages competition.
Monsaraz – The History
Already showing signs of being a fortified Castro during prehistoric times, Monsaraz has always had a strong military and religious influences, impeccably preserved in time to the present day.
The Monsaraz’s privileged location, situated on the top of the hill overlooking the Guadiana and the Spanish border, has made it highly coveted by the people who disputed it. Then named Saris or Sarish, Monsaraz was conquered to the Muslims by Geraldo Without Fear in 1167, in a military incursion that left Evora.
After the defeat suffered in Badajoz, D. Afonso Henriques returns to lose control of Monsaraz to the Moors. However, in 1232, D. Sancho II recovers Monsaraz once and for all with the support and help of the Templars, to whom he eventually donates the beautiful Alentejo village. By the way, the marks left by the Order of the Temple, later Order of Christ, are still alive and in good health through the walls of Monsaraz.
Today the museum town of Alentejo, Monsaraz was the head of the county until the mid-nineteenth century, when the council administration is based in Reguengos de Monsaraz. A curiosity: did you know that Reguengos means “relative to King”, is directly linked to the Latin prefix regis (= King)? While the entire municipality of Reguengos de Monsaraz has grown over the centuries, following modernity, Monsaraz has turned its back on time and remained as it wanted, girl and maiden – timelessly magnificent.
Visiting Monsaraz is a unique experience and the vast majority of people will be rewarded only by simply strolling its streets or watching a magnificent sunset from the top of its walls. However, if you want to know this little paradise in more detail, know that there is much to see and many things to do in this Alentejo village. These are the best places to visit in Monsaraz.
Places to visit
Monsaraz Castle is located at the southwest end of this charming village in the Alentejo region of Portugal. This castle, classified as a National Monument, was built in the late 13th century at the request of King D. Dinis and is part of the chain of fortifications bordering Spain.
At present, it can be recognized in the keep and four smaller square towers. Nowadays, the central part of the Castle is often used as a backdrop and the keep is divided into three floors, the lower one used as a prison, the middle one as the noble hall of the perfect, and the last as the attic of the palace.
Mother Church of Santa Maria da Lagoa
The early Gothic church is built in the second half of the 13th century, being its oldest reference from the time of King D. Dinis. Due to the black plague that plagued the region, the original church disappears in the reign of D. João I, giving rise to the construction of a new Matrix, since the small size of the building did not allow the burial of the local population.
The construction of the present mother church, under the responsibility of architect Pêro Gomes, is from the 16th century, based on the Renaissance style, with three naves supported by four Tuscan columns, where regional shale predominates. The pediment is decorated with a tile panel and headed by a Cross of the Order of Christ, representative of Our Lady of Conception. The high altar, composed of gilded wood, shows two wooden sculptures representing Saint Augustine and Saint Monica. Its interior is adorned with 17th and 18th-century artistic decorations and eight side chapels. It is essential to highlight the tomb of Gomes Martins Silvestre, Monsaraz’s first mayor and settler, built of Estremoz marble, whose front face shows a funeral procession where several figures parade and at the top a figure alluding to the activity of the Templar knight.
Lake of Alqueva
To spend a few days relaxing and in good company, the Great Lake that became the Alqueva reservoir is the perfect excuse to relax. We speak of one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe, built on the Guadiana River. It has a 250 km2 reservoir and covers five Alentejo municipalities with many points of interest. On the right bank, we receive the castles of Juromenha, Alandroal, Terena, Monsaraz and Portel, and on the left bank, Mourão and Moura are privileged viewpoints on this mirror of water.
The lake has given an amazing atmosphere to this region. Where once there was a field, with olive, cork and holm oaks, today we see water and renewed life, with great conditions for outdoor activities and for water sports such as sailing, skiing and wakeboarding or for canoeing and kayaking, always so invigorating. For lovers of walking and cycling, there are signposted courses that can be done. They are a good way to discover customs and traditions and integrate with local people.