Portugal City Travel Guide: Elvas
- Population 23,000.
- Known for its superb 16th century fortifications.
- Historic frontier town with Spain.
- Relaxing town of plazas, churches and historic monuments.
- Situated east of Evora and Estremoz.
- Off-the-beaten-track destination.
Elvas, located east of Lisbon, in the Alto Alentejo, is a fascinating, hardly-visited fortress town, rightly famous for its impressive zig-zagging walls and fortifications.
Recaptured from the Moors in 1230, Elvas grew in importance as a fortress town due to its location only 15km from Badajoz in Spain, just over the Rio Guadiana.
Repeatedly attacked by Spain, the defenders of the town held off periodic attacks, only falling to the Spanish in 1580, when the garrison was betrayed by a bribe allowing King Philip II of Spain to enter and briefly install his court. However, in both 1644 and 1658, the town's defenders withstood attacks by much larger Spanish forces and again in 1801.
The last action in the town was during the Peninsular War (1807-1814), when Wellington made his base here for the successful but bloody attack on the French in Badajoz. A small military garrison is still based here with one of the town's Miltary Museums planned to open on the site of a barracks.
Elvas' star-shaped walls were designed in the 16th century by the Flemish Jesuit engineer Cosmander, along with Correia Lucas and Nicolau de Langres, and the city is still entered through their impressive gates: the Olivença Gate in the south; the Esquina Gate in the west and the São Vincente Gate to the north.
Elvas also has two outlying forts, the Forte de Graça to the north and the superb Forte de Santa Luzia (Tel: 268 628 357) to the south. There are great views from Santa Luzia and admission is free.
Elvas' Castelo has been built on Roman and Moorish remains and for a small entrance fee, visitors can walk the battlements with a view out to Forte de Graça.
The main centre of town is the sleepy Praça da Republica with the tourist office, lazy pavement cafes and the 16th century Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, designed by Francisco de Arruda, the main architect of the Torre de Belem in Lisbon.
Praça da Republica, Elvas and the Pillory
Walking up from the church is the former Dominican Convent of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação and the town's ornate pelourinho (pillory) in Largo de Santa Clara, designed in a Manueline style, from where wrong-doers would have been suspended from the four hooks at the top. The plain exterior of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação hides a lavish interior of azulejos and painted columns.
Elvas' other main sights include the Aqueduto da Amoreira - a tiered 7km-long aqueduct which brought fresh water to the town to the marble fountain in Largo da Misericordia and was again partially built to the instructions of architectural genius Francisco de Arruda. The structure was 100 years in the making, is over 30m-tall in parts and was completed in 1622. The English Cemetery down to the left from the castle is a reminder of the horrors of the seige of Badajoz and British soldiers who died during the Peninsular War are buried here.
The Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas (Tel: 268 367 150) opened in 2007 in an historic building - a former hospital - and houses the collection of modern art of Dr. Antonio Cachola. The Municipal Photography Museum João Carpinteiro (Tel: 268 636 470; closed Monday) on Largo Luis de Camões is housed in the town's old 1930s cinema and displays the collection of João Carpinteiro, including old cameras, optical equipment and an image bank with over 2750 photographs of Elvas.
Elvas' main festival is the Festas do Senhor da Piedade e de Sao Mateus in late September with markets, processions and bullfights.
Elvas city walls and rooftops
Elvas Tourist Office
Praça da República (tel. 268 622 236)
Getting to Elvas
There is a daily train to Lisbon (4-5 hours) changing at Entroncamento. Buses are by far the quickest option. The station is 4km north east of the city in Fontainhas.
Around two hours plus by car from Lisbon on the A6, IP2 and E90 highways. From Spain (Badajoz), take the A6/E90.
The bus station is outside the city wall's to the south and a short walk from Pousada Santa Luzia Elvas on the road to Spain.
Fairly infrequent buses a day make the 3 hour plus journey to Lisbon.
There are also bus connections to Evora (90 minutes), Portalegre (75 minutes), Estremoz (45 minutes) and Faro.
Elvas Castle and narrow streets
Churches in Elvas
Pousada Santa Luzia Elvas Av. de Badajoz (Tel: 268 637 470); 25 luxurious rooms in Portugal's first established pousada.
Book Hotel Accommodation in Elvas
Rua Nova de Vedoria, 7
For regional food
Tel. 268 624 793
The Praça da República has a few inside/outside bars for lazy afternoons and evenings.
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Cyber Palmeira (Tel 964 972 866); R. Alfredo Mirante, bl. 1, Bairro Europa
The average high June temperatures for Portugal is between 22 degrees Centigrade and 26 degrees Centigrade.
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Military Museum, Elvas