Visit: 5th/6th December 2016
Fifty miles northeast of Évora is the fortified Portuguese border town of Elvas. We stayed overnight here in an apartment in the town centre. As with Évora, one is first greeted by an aqueduct, except this one is not Roman. Elvas is notable for its extensive fortifications, built between the 17th and 19th centuries. This tall and sturdy aqueduct dates from that era, bringing water to the town from 5 miles away.
Elvas is basically an enormous fortress, comprising ‘the largest bulwarked dry ditch system in the world’. It sits at a key point on the road from Lisbon to Madrid, which meant a system of fortifications was inevitable following the beginning of hostilities in 1640 of the 28 year Portuguese Restoration War against Spain.
The ditches and walls date from a period of rapid developments in military architecture. France has a World Heritage Site inscribed as ‘The Fortifications of Vauban’, which I visited a part of on the Amiens trip earlier this year. Vauban was Louis XIV’s chief military architect, and he ringed France with new defences in the 17th century.
I walked over from the main town to the Fort of San Luzia – one of a number of fortlets that were added around Elvas to enhance its security. It was closed for restoration, but since there were no signs telling me so I walked inside and looked around until somebody told me in Portuguese that I wasn’t meant to be there. It did however allow me an opportunity to see Elvas from afar. You can see the aqueduct on the left and the town’s walls on the right, in the photo below.
It was pretty cold that night in eastern Portugal – a contrast to what we’d been used to Madeira. We had drinks and dinner in the nice Restaurante Acontece, where the bartender made us G&Ts with cardamom pods. The photos below show Elvas from next to its castle as we strolled around its narrow streets by dusk.
None of my photos really do the place justice, however – and neither, if I am honest, did my own visit. For to properly appreciate the extent of the fortifications one needs to view this WHS from above. The best I can do is reproduce some Google Earth imagery, first showing the fort of San Luzia and then the city of Elvas in its entirety.