Monsaraz is a an incredibly beautiful walled village in the eastern Alentejo near Evora, on a hill fortified by the Knights Templar—the position ideal to protect Portugal from invaders from Spain. Perch yourself on a good vantage point inside the walls of Monsaraz you can see all across the Alentejo plain, across the Alqueva lakes and the River Guadiana into Spain. The whitewashed Monsaraz is certainly deserving of its title, “jewel in the crown” of the Alentejo region, in 2017 it was a finalist in the the category “Monument Villages” in the competition 7 Maravilhas de Portugal – Aldeias (7 wonders of Portugal – Villages).
Monsaraz offers a delightful medieval atmosphere in a small, tidy village entered through a towered village gate called Porta da Vila. On the other end of the village is the castle, the interior now used for the occasional festival, Portuguese bullfight or soccer game. Local crafts are available to buy in the village.
Between the entrance gate and the castle lies the Parish church of Monsaraz, Nossa Senhora da Lagoa. It’s a 16th century church built on an older 13th century one. It was rebuilt twice, once after the 1755 earthquake and again afterwards.
In front of the church is the main square, featuring an 18th century pillory where announcements were made, laws and punishments given.
Adjacent is the the Igreja da Misericórdia Church and, by its side, the Museum of Religious Art (Museo de Arte Religioso).
To the left of the church is a building famous for the 14th century symbolic fresco of a judge getting council from both the devil and Christ.
You can visit the Monsaraz castle for free, but note that there are rather steep, metal stairs to climb to get inside. Inside is a 14th-century amphitheater used these days for the Portuguese version of the bullfight, less violent than the Spanish version. It has a great view, as you can see:
The Chapel of São Bento (Capela de São Bento/Ermida de São Bento), seen at the top of the picture below, was built around the end of the 16th century, but was left severely damaged by the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.
There’s a chance to stock up on ceramics here if you have enough room in your suitcase. Given its proximity to the main ceramics production center, the town of Pedro do Corval, shops carry plenty of hand-painted dishes. Cork is also a popular medium for artisan crafts people.
Where to Stay
Monsaraz has adaquate lodging for tourists, but isn’t overrun by tourist apartments. The highly rated Casa Dona Antonia – Turismo Rural em Monsaraz is right in the heart of the village and offers quite reasonable prices.
Just out of town to the north is the rustic and highly rated Refúgio da Vila
Enjoy your exploration of the Alentejo region and the fabulous Monsaraz.