As the fog of the Alentejan plain lifted one morning, we climbed up a winding lane to find the hilltop village of Monsaraz.
On our recent tour of the Alentejo region of Portugal we discovered Monsaraz. This town, which is near the Portuguese border with Spain, dates back to the Romans and overlooks vineyards, olive groves, farmland and Portugal’s largest lake, Alqueva Lake, is a total find and an absolute treasure. We’d planned to include it as a paragraph of our write-up on Alentejo, until we got here and were so enchanted by our two days, that we decided it deserved its own post.
We stayed out of town a short (albeit all uphill) walk to town. We spent two days climbing to and meandering around its narrow, winding and hilly stony streets, taking in the views, visiting the shops and learning about the history of the town in its two small museums.
Monsaraz is in the heart of what was once the Moorish land in Portugal. During the reconquista (reconquering) of these lands, Monsaraz was taken back by Portugal by King D. Sancho II with the help of the Knights Templar in 1232. The Knights built the castle, a frame of which still stands, as well as The Ermida de Santa Catarina de Monsaraz, a church below the town, the bones of which also still stand looking up at the villa and castle.
One of the museums, the Museo Do Fresco, is dedicated to a fresco dating back to the 15th century, which was discovered in October of 1958 when the parish building was being repaired. It depicts two panels, the lower one depicts a “good judge” being crowned by “the figures of Justice and Mercy” with the acquitted defendant staring up at him admiringly. To the good judge’s right, sits the “bad judge” being tempted by a rich man with gold to his right, the villain to his left and Satan whispering in his ear over his shoulder. Above the lower panel, two angels sit on either side of Christ, “symbolically proclaiming the incorruptibility of divine justice”. No pictures allowed in the museum, so you’ll just have to come check it out for yourself. We did capture an image of the bad judge portion in the second museum we visited and wrote about in the following paragraph (image below) . (Source and quoted: pamphlet provided at the Museo Do Fresco).
The second museum, the Casa Da Inquisição, tells the story of the town and area, dating back to the stone age with its nearby Cromlech, through the Romans to the Moors to the Knights Templar. Admission is 1 Euro per person to visit both.
Many towns in Alentejo sit atop a hill overlooking its surrounding plains, but this one is something special and is absolutely worth a stop if you’re in Evora or near by. Bravo, Monsaraz.