Beja Mini Guide
What is the Story of Beja?
Beja was an important Celtic settlement before the Romans came. After a peace treaty was signed with the Lusitanians, Julius Caesar authorised the conversion of the settlement into the city of Pax Julia which became the capital of the southern Iberian province of Lusitania. After the fall of Rome
, the Visigoths made the city the seat of a bishop and it continued to thrive until captured by the Omayyad army in 710.
For the next five hundred years it changed hands between crusaders and Moors several times finally reverting to Portugal in the 13th century. Its suffering was far from over though for it had been totally destroyed in the wars and was not rebuilt until the 16th century. Again in the 19th century, a Napoleonic army captured the city, destroying much of it and killing all the inhabitants, yet the city rose again.
How do I Get to Beja?
Beja has a brand new airport that opened its doors in April 2011. The airport aims to attract budget airlines to Beja and currently has a Sunvil flight from Heathrow
and a TACV flight from Boa Vista. It’s expected that the range will increase with negotiations underway with other low cost carriers. The airport is a couple of miles outside the city but with good local transport links. Car hire is available at the airport or in the city so you can explore the beautiful plains of the Alentejo.
What is There to See and Do in Beja?
Despite the destruction caused by centuries of warfare, Beja still has plenty to see. A look at a map of the city shows the remains of the old city walls and with a length of just under two kilometres, the circuit is a great way to see the city. Start off at the castle from where you’ll have spectacular views of the plains of the Alentejo from the tower reached by nearly two hundred steps. People pay little attention to the history of the Visigoths but as Beja was an important city to them, you’ll find a small museum in Beja documenting and displaying Visigoth art so if you know little about them and want to find out more, add it to your list. Finally, spend some time at the Museu Rainha Leonor which is in a former convent famous for the literary documents, ‘Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun’. if you want to stay in a historic building, the former convent of St Francis is now a 'pousada' or manor house hotel.
What Should I buy to Remind me of my Visit?
The region of Alenteja is divided from the north of Portugal by the Douro River in whose valley grow the grapes that make some of Portugal’s finest wines. A few bottles of port or table wine produced in the valley make excellent purchases. Apart from that, you’ll find shoes and sandals made from locally produced leather which are often of great quality and inexpensive.
What are the Food Specialities of the City?
Being inland, Beja’s cuisine is based more on meat that fish and comprises several versions of stew made from wild game or the goats that graze on the Alentejo. Many of the stews have more than a good helping of red wine included and are rich and tasty.
What do the People do for Entertainment?
Beja is completely different to the coastal resorts in avoiding noisy bars and clubs. There, entertainment takes place at a much slower pace with coffee shops and small, almost uninspiring, bars serving wine and the Portuguese version of tapas. Conversation is the entertainment and story-telling and anecdotes make a refreshing change from the ‘thud thud’ of bass.
Beja is a fascinating city with a wealth of history surrounding it. Hire a car to visit the city’s iconic castle, atop the hill on which the city is built. From the castle you can see the remains of the city walls that were built at the same time.
Nothing remains of the fabulous Roman city of Pax Julia which was the origin of the modern city. The castle is believed to have been built on the remains of the Roman fort but the city was destroyed by the Omayyad army in the 8th century.