We set out from Palmela on the motorway to Estremoz, turning off for Vila Viçosa. The road was quiet and the countryside stretched for miles ahead – it was good to be in Portugal again.
Vila Viçosa was a Roman settlement, it was part of the Visigoth Kingdom, and it was held by the Moors until 1217 when it was retaken by the Knights of the Order of Avis. In the early 14C King Dinis I built a castle in the settlement and in 1460s this came into the Braganza family. (History)
Today the town is dominated by the Ducal Palace of the House of Braganza. The Dukes of Braganza established themselves in a castle inside the walls of the old town. Duke James began construction of the current palace outside the walls of the old town in 1501-02 with further additions by the family until 1640 when Duke John became King of Portugal. His daughter, Catherine, was born in the Palace and became Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland with her marriage to Charles II. The Braganza family continued to reign until deposed in 1910 with the establishment of a Republic.
The Square is lined with imposing buildings: alongside the Palace was the Convent of the Stigmata, founded in early 1500s (dates vary wildly on the internet) by the 4th Duke and and the Dukes of Braganza were buried here. It was later given to the nuns of St Clara, but remained under the patronage of the Braganzas until 19C, and in family ownership until 1932. The buildings are now part of the Pousada of Dom João IV.
Across the square is the Church and Monastery of St Augustine which was founded in the 13C and rebuilt in the 17C. The Duchesses of Braganza were buried here. The view on the old postcard (date unkown) shows the old, walled town in the background with the Church of Nossa Senhora de Conceiçao.
The Old Town is walled, with several imposing gates. It stands on a small hill in the town and was once a Moorish stronghold. I am not sure if these are the Moorish walls or those built by Dom Dinis in the 13C.
Inside the walls was the castle, the original home of the Braganzas, and itself walled, with a drawbridge with beams which lift into slots in the walls. Today the building is an archaeological and hunting museum. We arrived as everything was closing for a long lunch – be warned!
The Church of Nossa Senhora de Conceição dates from 15C. Inside is a statue of the Virgin and in 1646, it is told, King João IV placed his crown upon her head, she became the Patron Saint of Portugal, and no king wore a crown since then. And attached to the church is an enormous cemetery where all the tombs are marble.
Sadly I had limited time to explore the town which has many interesting buildings.
Vila Vicosa is a major producer of marble – these quarries are just outside the town. In the town marble is everywhere – roads, pavements, buildings, windows, door frames.
Once outside the town we drove along quiet roads through cork oaks and grazing cattle and sheep. Stopping at the Ribeira Grande River this goat family suddenly appeared, on its way home to Figuera do Barros! Our destination was the Pousada of Santa Maria Flor da Rosa.
You may be interested in
A Guide to Portugal
Catherine of Braganza
History of the House of Braganza
The Current Braganza Family
Vila Viçosa (postcard images of the this town, and others)
Visiting Vila Viçosa