BEJA TOURISM GUIDE
A famous 17th-century love affair and a lavish old convent
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Founded by Julius Caesar as Pax Julia,
Beja is a pleasing town with whitewashed houses and a 13th-century castle.
It is one of the largest towns in the Alentejo province, with the richest copper mines in Europe, although it is best known for a 17th-century love affair.
Chamilly, a French count, supposedly seduced a nun who lived in the Nossa Senhora da Conceição Convent but then left the town forever. The nun's grief and anguish were revealed in passionate letters that ended up being published in Paris in 1669. A later translation to English made Five Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun internationally famous as a classic of romantic literature celebrated for its lyric beauty.
The nun's beautiful 15th century convent, one of the richest and most important at the time, is now the Regional Museum with a remarkable blend of architectural styles. It has elaborate Gothic portals, Manueline windows, a magnificent Rococo chapel, a chapter house with an incredible painted ceiling, and cloisters completely covered in stunning 16th century tiles, one of the finest examples of this art form. The museum's collection includes Roman and Visigothic stones, 15th to 18th century Dutch and Portuguese paintings, and Escudela de Pero de Faria, a piece of Chinese porcelain from 1541 that is unique in the world.
Across the square from the convent is the Church of Santa Maria, with massive round pillars and Mudejar arches. It was first a Visigothic temple in the 6th century and then a mosque during the Moorish occupation, but most of what is seen today dates from the 15th century reconstruction.
The castle has a 36m (118ft)-high tower that crowns the town and provides views from the top. Behind it is the Visigothic Basilica of Santo Amaro, a rare example from the Visigothic period and one of the country's oldest-standing buildings (parts date back to as far as the 6th century). With interior columns carved with 7th century geometric motifs, it houses a small museum with the most important Visigothic collection in the country that includes tombstones, weapons, and pottery documenting the Visigothic presence in the region.
Beja is usually visited on the way to Algarve, but those who choose to stay overnight can sleep in the town's beautiful pousada located in a former monastery.
Connections to or from Lisbon and western Algarve are best by train; for Evora and eastern Algarve it's quicker by bus.
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AND TAGUS VALLEY
Castelo de Vide
Vila Real de Santo António
BEIRAS (CENTRAL PORTUGAL)
Figueira da Foz
Serra da Estrela
PORTO AND DOURO
Gerês National Park
Ponte de Lima
Ponte da Barca
Viana do Castelo