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Van stad naar stad
Elvas - S. Vicente - Santa Eulalia - Barragem do Caia - Barbacena - Vila Fernando - Terrugem - Vila Boim - Calçadinha - Elvas
1. Elvas – S. Vicente – Santa Eulalia
Take the road to Portalegre, close to the Aqueduto da Amoreira. On the horizon can be seen, rising up, the unmistakable outline of the Forte da Graça and, at a distance of about 8km, a glimpse of the Quinta das Longas (privately owned) recalls the presence of the Romans in this region: archaeological excavations have partially uncovered a villa, objects from which can be savoured in the Elvas Municipal Museum. Among vegetable gardens, meadows, orchards and neat olive groves, irrigated drop by drop, as is the case with those that can be seen in the Herdade do Monte de Alcobaça (a herdade is a large country estate), the route brings us to the delightful little village of s. Vicente. Along the road which cuts through the village, with walks lined with orange trees, where the benches invite companionship and rest at the end of a summer afternoon, the visitor will be surprised by the unusual chimneys which distinguish the rows of houses. A stroll through the village Streets will enable you easily to discover the Church of S. Vicente, to familiarise yourself with the restaurants which give S. Vicente its gastronomic reputation, and to meet the country folk for a short shat. S. Vicente is a setting for interesting traditions such as the prayer offerings during the period of Holy Week, or the Day of Parents-in-Law during Carnival, when “nothing is taken amiss”: there is not better way of finding out about the real thing than from the people who are involved. Those interested in rustic art should seek out Sr. Miguel Inverno who makes beautiful spoons carved in boxwood.
Continuing along the road you arrive at Santa Eulélia, where can be found a public wash-house, an ancient bull-ring, a small garden with a patio, and fine regional cuisine. Continue straight ahead through the cobbled Streets until you arrive at the Praça do Capitao Carpinteiro, where there are several houses with distinguished doorways, two-storeyed with wrought-iron balconies, leaving us to guess at the nobility of their past. In the landscaped square at the side rises the Parish Church of Na Sa do Rosario, a 17th century building with a rounded granite portico. The interior, with a single nave surmounted by an arched roof, has a high altar covered by a kind of dome in the form of a hemispheric cupola, and five side altars, one of which is of gilded wood.
The Labyrinthine village is very Alentejan, worth exploring on foot and visiting its handcrafts. Close to the church, in Rua Dr. Teotomnio Pereira, you will find the house of Sr. Alpedrinha who makes cloaks, trousers and overcoats. The road towards Correaria (“saddler’s shop”) Barambao, with work in leather and hide (belts, suitcases etc) is signposted, and is a good opportunity for a general view of the landscape and its rows of houses, encompassing a further church dedicated to S. Joao. On the road that leaves the village for Arronches, there is a new saddler’s and, a little further on, an already famous blacksmith’s making decorative work in tin.
Excursions to the Caia Reservoir (Barragem)
Leaving Santa Eulalia in the direction of Arronches, you will come to a Crossroads. Follow the sign to Campo Maior, and make a detour to the Caia Reservoir. The water from here irrigates 7,000 hectares of land, two thirds of the whole Elvas region. These are the fertile plains of the Caia and Guardiana valleys, which extend from the reservoir to the area of Senhora da Ajuda, producing maize, sunflowers, tomatoes, rice, wheat, barley, melons and Tobacco. The reservoir is open for fishing, responsible for the introduction into the local gastronomy of tasty fish dishes, and allows the practice of non-motorized water sports. It has dazzling scenic beauty, and its banks offer shady retreats, inviting rest, and may paths for strolling.
Santa Eulalia – Barbacena
Return to the Crossroads refferred to above, and take the road for Vila Ferando. Cross the Railway-line and observe, on the left, a large granite-quarry, one of the sources of work and of wealth in the region. Further on you will catch a glimpse, to the right, of the palace of the Herdade de Fontalva, which incorporates an ancient ruined castle (private property).
Barbacena can now be seen. Enter this ancient town. Which received its first charter in 1273, and take the first Streets to the right, Rua Nova, with typical rows of houses, where the diversity of the shapes of the chimneys is remarkable. Keeping to the left, you will have a fine view of the fortress. Buil by Jorge Henriques, chief huntsman of King JoaoIII, it was reconstructed in the middle of the 17th century, a time when the principal entrance was built, with a gateway with carved stonework forming a pediment with two pinnacles and a finial. As will be found to some degree in every part of this frontier region, it was sacked by the Spanish during the War of Restoration.
Go up the road, and continue your exploration of the town, this time goint right until you come to two cobled Streets. Take the one on the left as far as the Praça and discover, next to the ancient, desecrated Church of Na Sa da Luz, the oldest Casa do Povo in the country and an ancient pillory, of rough squared stone of the 16th century, witnessing that this was then an administrative centre. Further on you can see the Parish Church of Na Sa da Graça, a building with 15th century origins, but later rebuilt. It comprises a single nave covered with a vaulted arch, and has an 18th century marble high altar.
Going back to the main road, you will reach a Crossroads. To the right, in the direction of Monforte, you will find the 18th century Church of Senhora do Passo, with a high façade and simple granite doorway. To the left, in the direction of Elvas, rises the round hermitage of Na Sa da Nazaré, a small 18th century church, with a domed roof crowned by three granite crosses. The picturesque combination formed by the hermitage, the cross and a curious fountain justifies the short walk there and back. Having completed this first tour of the village, it is time to visit two renowned craftsman, both popular poets: Sr Joaquim Canoas Vieira, better known as Ti (“Uncl”) Raminhos, who makes artefacts in boxwood, using twigs, and in cork, and Sr. Joaquim Efe Tiago, a master of miniatures of everyday life and of life in farming. You will find the former in Rua de Na Sa do Passo and the latter in Praca da Restauraçao.
Barbacena – Vila Fernando
Following a road through olive groves you arrive al Vila Fernando, which has already borne the Arab name of Alcarapinha and is also known as the village of Conceiçao. For a view of the village, a dirt road to the left leads to a small reservoir where you can bathe when the weather is right, or fish for carp, achega, boga and perch.
Leave the main road soon after entering the village, turning right and continuing to the Church of Na Sa da Conceirçao which opens onto a paved churchyard with a granite cross. The façade has a marble portico, and the interior, with a single vaulted nave, has a high altar covered by a dome. To the side, on the first house built next to the church, a chimney displays a painted cross, dated 1803. Go back to the church and turn left. In front rises the building of the College which, from its doorway and its dimensions, distinguished itself from the rest of the houses. It used to belong to the House of Bragança and, 100 years ago, functioned as an institution for the social reintegration of young people. Go down the cross-street and look for the new building of the Junta da Freguesia (“Parish Council”) where it is essential to visit the Museum of Ethnography and Archacology, a worthy and well-conceived local initiative. As well as a number of items found in archaeo-logical excavations, the museum pre-sents the daily life of the Alentejan people, displayed with style and detail. Before leaving the village, get to know the local handicrafts, here created by the hands of women who specialise in knitwear and lace made on 2 and 5 needles.
Villa Fernando – Terrugem – Vila Boim
From Vila Fernando it is possible to return directly to Elvas. But, if you have time, don’t be in a hurry. Make a futher excursion to the leather tanneries at Terrugem, and get to know the interesting Hamlet of Vila Boim. Go through the village to the end and take a right turn onto the beautiful country road that leads to the highway (EN). Join the highway with care, and follow the sign to Terrugem, having virtually to join it a second time (not signalled). Pass Monte do Cao and, at the top of the slope, choose your route. If you go left on the S. Romao road, you have, like a laden platter, a series of representatives of the tanning industry and of the manufacture of leather goods, which give the area its name. If you go straight ahead, passing close to the market and to the basketry workshop of Sr. Tendeiro, you will come to the Parish Church of Santo Antonio. Rebuilt in the 18th century, the main façade, with a marble portico over which opens a window also in marble, gives onto a paved churchyard surrounded by benches. Continuing further, you will come across, on the right, a school yard, where hides also make their presence felt. On the road leading out is the tourist complex Bolota/Castanha, reputed for its traditional cuisine. Leave Terrugem by the road to the right, and continue a little along the EN as far as Vila Boim. With charters from D. Afonso III and D. Manual, and belonging to the House of Bragança between 1451 and 1876, this small village had a Ducal Palace, a castle and a pillory. The harmonious layout of rows of typical houses combined with buildings of nobler aspect gives it a very special enchantment. Enter the village via Rua de Elvas and, close to the shrine, turn right along Travessa Professora Bernardina do Carmo Reis. Turn left up Rua de Vila Viçosa and then into Rua da Fonte to see the Fonte da Biquinha, presented by the Hous of Bragança in 1930, and the enormous public washhouse dated 1833. Turn round in the square next to the cemetery, and return along the same street. By the Restaurante Escondidinho, go up Rua do Pelourinho, where you will find another shrine, and enjoy the fine view of the Parish Church of S. Joao Batista. Built in the 18th century, the paved churchyard is enclosed by 19th century iron railings. The single-nave interior is distinguished by an 18th century high altar displaying, on high, the arms of Portugal.
Go along Rua do Castelo and, at the end, take a left turn, passing the churchyard of the Church of S. Francisco. You are again in Rua de Elvas. Note a futher shrine, admire the façade of the recreational society High Life, one of the oldest in the district, and, close to a small tree-lined square, turn right for the Rossio. Relax in the garden with the bandstand, and, if you make this trip at the time when the grapes or the olives are being pressed, let the aroma stimulate your appetite.
Vila Boim – Calçadinha – Elvas
When it is time to leave, go to the school building and turn left to the EN. At this point it is possible to return directly to Elvas, a journey that will allow you to encounter restaurants, hotels, an equestrian centre and a complex of open-air and covered swimming pools. The other option is to cross the EN, again in the direction of Vila Fernando, and follow a route that will take you back to Elvas alongside the imposing Aqueduto da Amoreira. If you choose the latter, follow the narrow metalled strip of road, savouring the groves of olives, to the junction, close to the large Monte das Casas Velhas. Turn right, and, about 1 km further on, passing the sign for Monte da Serra do Bipo, find the starting point of the aqueduct, which begins here, at the great spring of Amoreira, and, if you can make them out, on both sides of the road, the well-heads that feed it.
Continue to the Hamlet of Calçadinha, indicated by the Quinta that gives it its name and, further on, begin now to perceive the visible presence of the great structure. Constructed between 1529 and 1622, the length of the aqueduct, from its spring to the Fonte da Misericordia, is almost eight kilometres, and its height, at the points where the arches are placed one above the other for four levels, is 31 metres. Designed and supervised by architects of the Royal Household, Francisco de Arruda, Diogo Marques and Afonso Alvares, it contains 843 arches, 371 constructed in antiquity and the rest later. Follow it, firstly on the right-handed side, where you can also observe one of its fountains, and, later, observe its design as it crosses the road at two points.
On the horizon in Elvas and its fortresses the Forte de Santa Luzia to the south, and the Forte da Graça to the north. Proceed slowly, and appreciate from this uniquely distinct angle, the complex, magnificent series of arches of this treasure of the city which, since the 17the century, has fulfilled, assomeone has rightly said, “its charitable duty to give drink to chose that thirst”.