Beja

Beja is a city and a municipality in Portugal. The municipality is composed of 18 parishes, and is located in the district of Beja. Situated on a hill (277 m), commanding a strategic position over the vast plains of the Baixo Alentejo, Beja was already an important place in the antiquity. Already inhabited in Celtic times, the town was later named Pax-Julia by Julius Caesar in 48 BC when he made peace with the Lusitanians.

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The castle on top of the hill can be seen from afar and dominates the town. It was built, together with the town walls, under the reign of king Diniz in the 13th century over the remains of a Roman castellum that had been fortified by the Moors. It consists of battlemented walls with four square corner towers and a central granite and marble keep, with its height of 40 m the highest in Portugal. The top of the keep can be accessed via a spiral staircase with 197 steps, passing three stellar-vaulted rooms with Gothic windows. One can also glimpse the remains of the city walls that once had forty turrets and five gates. The castle now houses a small military museum. The square in front of the castle is named after Gonalo Mendes da Maia or o Lidador, a brave soldier killed in the battle against the Moors.

The whitewashed Latin-Visigothic church of Santo Amaro, dedicated to Saint Amaro, standing next to the castle, is one of just four pre-Romanesque churches left in Portugal. Some parts date from the sixth century and the interior columns and capitals are carved with foliages and geometric designs from the seventh century. Especially the column with birds attacking a snake is of particular note. It houses today a small archaeological museum with Visigothic art.

Museu da Rainha D. Leonor – This regional museum was set up in 1927 and 1928 in the former convent Our Lady of the Conception gradually expanding its collection. This Franciscan convent had been established in 1459 by Infante Fernando, Duke of Viseu and duke of Beja, next to his ducal palace. The construction continued until 1509. It is an impressive building with a late-Gothic lattice-worked architrave running along the building. This elegant architrave resembles somewhat the architrave of the Monastery of Batalha, even if there are some early-Manueline influences.

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