New UNESCO World Heritage Site in Portugal – Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications

The garrison border town of Elvas

Dating back as far as the Romans, the border town of Elvas,  facing the “ciudad” of Badajoz, was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site last June. The garrison town, strategically located on the route connecting the two capitals, Lisbon and Madrid, is now worldwide renown for having the largest bulwarked dry-ditch military fortification and rampart system in the world. The impressive fortifications are intrinsically connected to Portuguese history, and played a major role in securing the Portuguese independence during the Portuguese War of Restoration (1641-68).

Here is a summary of the article on the UNESCO website, reporting the new listing.

“Guarding the key border crossing between Portugal’s capital Lisbon and Spain’s capital Madrid, in an undulating, riverine landscape, the Garrison Town of Elvas was fortified extensively from the 17th to the 19th centuries to become the largest bulwarked dry ditch system in the world, with outlying forts built on surrounding hills to accommodate the changing needs of defensive warfare.
The town was supplied with water by the 7km-long Amoreira Aqueduct, built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and a key feature enabling the stronghold to withstand a lengthy siege. Within the walls, the town contains extensive barracks and other military buildings, as well as churches and monasteries, some adapted to military functions. The property includes seven components: the Historic Centre, the Amoreira Aqueduct, the Fort of Santa Luzia, and the covered way linking it to the Historic Centre, the Fort of Graça, and the Fortlets of São Mamede, São Pedro and São Domingos.

The Amoreira Aqueduct

The Amoreira Aqueduct

The historic centre with its castle, remnant walls and civil and religious buildings demonstrate the development of Elvas as three successive walled towns from the 10th to the 14th century and its subsequent incorporation into the major fortification works of the Portuguese War of the Restoration period (1641-68), when a wide range of military buildings were built for its role as a garrison town.
The bulwarked fortifications of the town and the outlying Fort of Santa Luzia and Graça and fortlets of São Mamede, São Pedro and São Domingos reflect the evolution of the Dutch system of fortification into an outstanding dry-ditch defence system.
These surviving fortifications were begun in 1643 and comprise twelve forts inserted in an irregular polygon, roughly centred on the castle and making use of a landscape of hills. The bulwarks are battered, surrounded by a dry ditch and counterscarp and further protected by a number of ravelins. The fortifications were designed by the Dutch Jesuit Cosmander, based on the treaties of fortification engineer Samuel Marolois, whose work together with that of Simon Stevin and Adam Fritach launched the Dutch school of fortification worldwide. Cosmander applied the geometric theory of Marolois to the irregular topography of Elvas, to produce a defensive system considered a masterpiece of its time.
In the 18th century the Fort of Graça was constructed in response to the development of longer-range artillery, as well as four fortlets to the west.

One of the massive fortresses

One of the massive fortresses

As the remains of an enormous war fortress, Elvas is exceptional as a military landscape with visual and functional relationships between its fortifications, representing developments in military architecture and technology drawn from Dutch, Italian, French and English military theory and practice. Elvas is an outstanding demonstration of Portugal’s desire for land and autonomy, and the universal aspirations of European nation States in the 16th-17th centuries.”

For those of you who would like to know more, please follow this link to the article on the UNESCO website.

The Alentejo (Portuguese word for “beyond the Tagus river”) area near the Spanish border offers spectacular scenic drives and unique landscapes. This is now the second UNESCO World Heritage Site in the region (the first one was the city of Évora, 50 km away), where the landscape is marked by medieval towns, castles, roman temples and abbeys; accompanied by the friendliest people in Europe and a rich culinary history. The recent years have brought a new wave of visitors, who are keen on using the large artificial lakes of the region (such as the 250 km2 Alqueva dam reservoir, the largest artificial lake in Europe), to bathe and tour from April to mid-October. Large parties can stay at the unique Monte das Fontes, a luxurious 7 bedroom manor in a private 600 ha estate with its private swimming and boating lake facing the house; and smaller families at Monte Rei Santo, a 3 bedroom cottage with private pool; and experience the unspoilt Alentejo and all it has to offer.

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