Portugal’s Other World Heritage Sites

They’re not officially on UNESCO’s list, but these sites of extraordinary cultural significance could very well end up there one day, joining the 14 others in Portugal (like Sintra and Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery and Belem Tower).

Mafra

MAFRA PALACE
It’s one of the world’s biggest palaces and it has some singular features such as a total of six organs that are unique in the world and the world’s largest collection of church bells in addition to one of Europe’s finest libraries. One of Nobel Prize author José Saramago’s most translated novels is about the building’s unbelievable construction (published in English as “Baltasar and Blimunda”).

Baixa

DOWNTOWN LISBON
The only reason Lisbon’s downtown isn’t yet a World Heritage Site is because many of its buildings have reached an advanced state of decay and have been stripped of many of their original features. Before it can present its candidacy to UNESCO it will have to restore everything back to its original state, but even without the official recognition Lisbon’s downtown is already a remarkable place. You couldn’t tell by simply looking at it, but this is Europe’s first urban planning project, using large-scale pre-fabricated earthquake-proof techniques that included modern sanitation. This type of grid of broad streets was later replicated in other European cities such as Paris and Barcelona.

Sagres, Portugal

SAGRES
Prince Henry the Navigator’s inspirational coastline is just as mystical and mysterious today. It’s Europe’s southwesternmost tip and was therefore believed to be the end of the world in ancient times. Prince Henry however, wondered what laid beyond the horizon and started a project of “discoveries” that paved the way for Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Christopher Columbus and all the other famous explorers. An enormous compass believed to have been used to study navigation is still seen on the ground in Sagres today.

Vila Viçosa, Portugal

VILA VIÇOSA
This town is made almost exclusively of marble. Like most others in the serene Alentejo province, it’s a rather sleepy place today but it was once a royal town with a palace belonging to the royal family of the Bragança dynasty. The palace is naturally also made of marble, as are benches and pavements, as this region is rich in this “white gold.”

Marvão, Portugal

MARVÃO
This near-Heaven village is a fortified medieval place described by the New York Times as “a fairytale mirage.” It’s one of the world’s highest settlements, standing close to 3,000 feet up high on a mountain, all inside a wall and protected by a castle. It’s almost unbelievable how anyone chose to settle here, but you’d have to have a 13th-century mentality to understand it.

Universidade, Coimbra

COIMBRA UNIVERSITY
It’s one of the world’s oldest universities and it’s quite a special one, with unique traditions associated with it over time. It includes one of the world’s most remarkable baroque libraries and is the most likely candidate to end up on UNESCO’s list in the near future.

Buçaco Palace Hotel

BUÇACO FOREST
It was one of the first forests in Europe to reunite plants from all over the world. It’s also the site of one of the continent’s first palace hotels, surrounded by a magical atmosphere.

Arrabida Park

ARRÁBIDA NATURAL PARK
This isn’t just another beautiful natural park. It’s one of the best places for geologists to learn about three key phases of the earth’s evolution and its tectonic plates, as well as a curious landscape of Mediterranean flora that’s actually on the Atlantic, developed around 180 million years ago when it was under water. The diversity and singularity of the park in terms of vegetation distribution gives it a natural heritage unmatched anywhere in the world.

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