‘M’ is for Monsaraz

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I’m going to struggle for photos for this post, because I visited Monsaraz on a damp, if not soaking wet, day!  Seems to be a recurring theme on here lately, doesn’t it?  But such was the impact it made that I loved it anyway.  Some day, I hope to return and see it like this.

So will you excuse me for borrowing from Wikipedia?

So will you excuse me for borrowing from Wikipedia?

It must have been an anniversary or a special occasion, because I was sitting at a table in “A Ver” when I first heard about Monsaraz. This Tavira restaurant is named for its view down over the rooftops and the prices are more than we would normally pay.  But treats are treats, and so I happened to be sitting at the next table to a couple whose evening was interrupted by the wife’s mobile phone. The wife excused herself and was gone for some considerable time.

I can’t remember what prompted me to start the conversation, but before too long the husband was telling me about this beautiful place that I must see for myself.  The fact that it was a 4 hour drive or more seemed insignificant to him.  And so Monsaraz nestled in my imagination until I could make it a reality.

The town square and pillory on a sparkling day- @ Wikipedia

The town square and pillory on a sparkling day- from Wikipedia

The “Rough Guide”, always my bible, confirmed what I wanted to hear.  Monsaraz is a tiny, hilltop, walled village with sweeping views across the Guadiana to Spain.  It’s name comes from the Iberian word for Cistus landifer, the Gum Rockrose.  Xaraz thrives in dry, acidic slate-based soil, thus Monte Xaraz was a hill surrounded by Rockroses.

Monsaraz is one of the oldest settlements in the South of Portugal, and there are many menhirs and neolithic remains in the area. Due to its strategic location, there was certainly a fort there before Roman occupation.  Then came the Moors, and in 1232 it became a stronghold of the Knights Templar.  In 1640 it was refortified, during the Portuguese Restoration War and the border struggles.  Then land reforms and the growth of farm estates heralded change.  These days Monsaraz is no longer embattled, but there are still signs of the past.

The castle and keep- @ Wikipedia

The castle and keep-  from Wikipedia

In late October 2009 I journeyed north from the Algarve, across the wide, empty plains of Alentejo.  My destination lovely Evora and proud Elvas, but on the return leg I knew I would visit Monsaraz.  The weather was autumnal this much further north.  Leaving Elvas I headed directly into a rainbow and travelling south the weather steadily deteriorated.  I clung tenaciously to the hope that I would be blessed with a patch or two of blue sky, but it was not to be.

I stepped out of the car under leaden skies and looked up at the castle walls, and then out across the Guadiana.  Nothing could prevent an idiot grin settling on my face.  I grabbed Mick by the hand and started up the slippery damp cobbles, and through the narrow archway in the walls.

Looking out from beneath the town walls, across the Guadiana

Looking out from beneath the town walls, across the Guadiana

Medieval Monsaraz has only one main street, Rua Direita, with the village square at its centre.  The Inquisition House and the pillory point immediately to troubled times.  I was more intent on escaping the chill as I slipped inside the Chapel of Sao Bento, with its serene warmth and frescoes.  The main church, Nossa Senhora da Lagoa, was closed.  Climbing up to the castle walls, in a light drizzle, I felt I had reached the summit of a watery world.   The plains below had been flooded by the creation of the Alqueva Dam, boating heaven in Summer and a vast body of water.

The castle is topped by the Witches Tower (Torre das Feiticeiras) and within, the unexpected sight of a bullring, complete with tiered seating!  Currently it’s used for Festivals and fireworks, so no sad bulls.  As the rain increased its pace, tiny Cafe de Cisterna provided shelter, warm turkey pies and a slab of delicious cake.  Despite all that water outside, a drinking supply for the villagers had required a huge cistern to combat the blazing summer sun.  It was just visible through a barred window and then the weather really did drive us away.

A castle in spades!

I had planned a leisurely route back, crossing over the dam by a bridge to Mourao, but visibility was so poor that I had no choice other than to agree as Mick pointed the car due south.  In a couple of hours I was back under the blue skies of the Algarve.

I’ve found a site with some lovely atmospheric photos of Monsaraz, if you click on this link.  And you can get a better look at the whole trip on my E is for Elvas, and Evora.  It wasn’t all rain!

Meantime it’s thanks again to Frizz for prompting me to respond to his Tagged ‘M’ and to Julie Dawn Fox for the Personal A-Z Challenge.  And many thanks to you for reading!

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70 comments

  1. molto , molto piacevole e suggestivo questo viaggio, sono rimasta incantata dalla visione dei tetti, e incuriosita dalla piazza della gogna….il forte, poi, è una vera meraviglia
    grazie amica, a presto, augurandoti ancora mille belle passeggiate ma possibilmente senza avere male ai piedi!
    very, very nice and charming this trip, I was enchanted by the vision of the roofs, and intrigued by the pillory square. … the Fort, then, is a true wonder
    Thanks friend, see you soon, augurandoti still a thousand walks but possibly without hurt to toe!

  2. Always a fun adventure to share your adventures. It’s raining today in Houston and its comforting that I still get to see the Sun and all the great things beneath it through your post. Thanks.

      1. doing great stitches out tomorrow 🙂 Thanks for asking xo I ice , stretch and ice no pills so I am doing awesome 🙂 now to keep all the use of it and not to freeze up again that is the hope 🙂

  3. Thank you for introducing Monsaraz to us Jo. It looks like a delightful little place.As I’ve said before, I’ve never been to Portugal so I love learning all about the different places to visit there. The closest we came was on a cruise ship (that’s another story to come!!) docked very briefly, as in a few hours, at Ponta Delgada I think it was (The Azores?). It was very rough weather wise that day (early April) and we were advised to say on board! So, all that to say, it’s great to get a real taste here.

    You know, I didn’t think until after I did my Croatia post that I could have linked it to your Monday Walk theme but I was only thinking of the ‘Street’ theme for the challenge at the time. Duh!! Still, I have a walk coming up which I’m definitely going to link to you, hopefully next week, but I’ll let you know 🙂

    1. Hey- no worries, Sherri 🙂 Sliding through my reader (wriggling through my Reader? Sounds better 🙂 ) I often think ‘oh, I could’ve….’ but there’s never enough time and SO many challenges. I’ve failed!!! Sometimes easier to ignore the challenges and do your own thing. But then I seem to’ve started a ‘non-challenge’. Caramba!
      Glad you’re enjoying Portugal with me. That’s thanks enough, Sherri. 🙂

      1. Ha Ha!! You know so well! BTW, what with you ‘wriggling’ and ‘bouncing off walls’, I do hope that your neck and shoulder are feeling better and not suffering from all this 😉
        I love your posts Jo, you take me to places I’ve never been and what can be better than that? 🙂

    1. You know what an idiot I am! You did see my Headland post in hailstone, Rich. It’s what keeps me so cheerful 🙂 (has to be something- it’s been abominable here today!)

    1. I keep wondering when I’ll get up that way again, Ad, but I’m always pulled in too many directions. I fancy a boating holiday on the dam but they’re not cheap if there’s only a couple of you. I’ll have to recruit some others 🙂

  4. Enjoy reading the Monsaraz history! Such a beautiful town. Love the photos you picked from the wiki. The one that you took shows the wonderful view of the town, love it 🙂

    1. Thanks, Amy. You can tell I took this trip in 2009. I had about 6 photos, including the one looking out on the Guadiana. If I went today I’d have 606 photos, rain or no rain 🙂 Oh, the times they are a-changing…

  5. You are introducing me to so many different places in Europe, I really need to start exploring that way – I too like the spade shape – very quirky!

    1. I’ve just been selling Madhu on 2 weeks in the Alentejo 🙂 It’s very ‘unspoilt Portugal’, Jude.
      I only had a few of my own shots and they weren’t great so it needed something. A bit big, but there you go!

    1. We didn’t have much company on a damp November day, Sue, but I imagine it could get busy in Summer. It’s tiny, you see, and the parking down at the bottom of the hill is pretty limited. It’s saving grace is being a bit out of the way or it would surely be spoilt by now. I’d love to stay overnight when the fireworks are popping though. 🙂

  6. Yet another beautiful place in Portugal I need to see, Jo. Even under “leaden” skies! You know, I never had a cloudy day during that whole month I was in Spain and Portugal. I guess I really got lucky. You are a talented lady, Jo, making that spade-shaped picture. Is it another HTML trick?

    1. June/July/August are often too hot in the Alentejo, Cathy. I went to Evora as a birthday celebration and knew I was taking a chance on the weather in November, but it was still beautiful. 🙂
      When I want to seem clever I use Ulead Photo Express. It gives shape options when you trim. I needed to crop the bottom of this photo so I thought I might as well make it interesting. There! You know all my secrets now 🙂

      1. Oh Jo, you’re so creative! Ulead Photo Express? I’ll have to check it out.

        It was awfully hot in Evora when I went in July. Oh, how I keep dreaming of my trip last summer. It seems ages ago!! Have a great weekend! xxx

    1. I was lucky with the Wiki photos, Viv, but their information is invaluable. I almost always provide a link to them for additional history, rather than spell it all out. The spade shot is all my own, though 🙂
      How goes the poetry challenge? I’ll come by and check later.

  7. Lovely narrative Jo. Monsaraz looks very appealing. Filing this away to ‘nestle in my imagination, until I make it a reality’! 🙂

    1. I think you should, Madhu! Together with Evora and Elvas, and maybe north to Marvao. You did say you had 2 weeks didn’t you? The down side is, you’d need to drive 😦 Take ‘the mister’ later this year. He’d love it too 🙂

  8. A place filled with such history would deserve more than one visit. The history embedded in the towns is what I love most about visiting Europe. While in these spots, I can imagine what life must have been like for the people living there.

  9. My kind of town Monsaraz is (as sung by Frank) ….. sorry Jo, just couldn’t resist. Joking aside, it really is the kind of village that I would love to discover with my camera. Another lovely post.

  10. Nothing worse than a wet and dreary day for sure. I know the feeling. 🙂
    Love how you made the photo into that Spade frame. It’s gorgeous Jo! It does look like a lovely place to visit though. Thanks for another lovely virtual travel hon. 😀 ♥ Hugs ♥

    1. Glad you liked my spade, Sonel 🙂 It’s a little large on the page but a medium size didn’t look right either, so I went with ‘big is beautiful’! Hugs, darlin’.

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