Vila Viçosa has been a safe retirement place to the royal family, in some historic crises.
The signs of it are still present, with the palace and hunting gardens dominating a beautiful and peaceful town, where it is easy to learn why "Alentejanos" are famous for their... rush and general speed (!).
This 14th century church houses a Gothic image of the Virgen Mary, said to be from England. In 1646 Joao IV named her the patron saint of Portugal. Since then, no Portuguese monarch ever wore a crown.
The castle looms over the city of Vila Vicosa. It was the temporary residence of the Bragancas in the late 1400s until the Paco Ducal was deemed habitable.
I enjoyed climbing up and walking along the castle walls, affording great views of the nearby palace and town center.
The Dukes of the Braganca owned many estates, but their palace at Vila Vicosa, built in the eatrly 1500s, became their favorite.
I walked the grounds, but unfortnately the palace was closed as I was in town on a Monday.
This is a very interesting place to visit. Its located on Largo de D. Joao IV. It was an old factory very important to the town's economic income and job opportunity in the surrounding villages and area.
Completely dominating the western side of the old Praça Nova is the 17th century church of São João Evangelista (St. John the Evangelist), now serving the parish of São Bartolomeu, which formerly belonged to the Jesuit college.
The façade is impressive in the Baroque manner and covered with local marble. It has three levels of windows, three doorways with Doric columns, and is topped by two exuberantly decorated bell towers (but no spires), each holding six bells including the famous Caracena, which formerly chimed the hours in the Castle Keep but was badly damaged in the War of Restoration of Portuguese Independence by troops headed by the Spanish general after whom the bell is named. Inside the church, abounding in marble and gilt carving, the gilt tabernacle is particularly noteworthy and wooden sculpture and 17th and 18th century paintings may be seen.
The Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception), originally called Santa Maria do Castelo (Holy Mary within the Castle) is situated inside the old town walls and has already been visited by Pope John Paul II.
It was remodeled after the great earthquake of 1755 but was altered even further in the nineteenth century, when it took on the sober appearance it retains to this days. The inside, which has three naves supported by strong Doric columns, is open and welcoming. Besides the precious set of 17th century blue and yellow wall tiles, its artistic treasures include valuable pieces such as the precious 17th century tabernacle in the Capela do Santíssimo (the Chapel of the Sacrament), the Holy Thorn from Christ's Crown, the furniture belonging to the Brotherhoods and valuable jewels donated to the treasury. In the chancel itself, with oil paintings and excellent gilt carving, we find the image of the Patron Saint. The latter primitive sculpture has been dated to the 14th century, and is protected by a silver grid.
The Hunting Museum is found in the Vila Viçosa Castle and holds the Carvalho collection with a number of important hunting species from Africa and birds from the Iberian Peninsula as well as royal gifts and pieces from the royal family. Beautiful hunting firearms from renowned manufacturers complete this exhibition which has the aim of promoting knowledge and interest for hunting to a vast public. Nearly 2000 pieces are visible in a remarkable setting which permits the public to view a wide range of this sumptuous collection of pieces from all over the world.
Opposite the Porta da Torre, where the Praça Velha da Câmara and the prison used to be, halfway along the Avenida dos Duques de Bragança leading from Agostinhos to the Castle, is the graceful decorative pillory, in Gothic Manueline style and one of the most beautiful ones in Portugal.
On a quadrangular slate pillar sit four roughly sculpted frogs. The pillory is eight meters high and is topped by an open spherical distaff, festooned with garlands an acanthous leaves. Because of its beauty, uniqueness and historical and cultural value, it is considered to be a national monument and a true symbol of the town.
This is a truly imposing monument. Looking west, the Porta de Evora, one of the five entrance gates built into the walls first raised by King Dinis in the Middle Ages, dominates the wide avenue leading to the fortified town.
The Castle was reconstructed in the 17th century due to the War of Restoration of Portuguese Independence, in which it played an active part.
Another noteworthy convent building is that of Esperança (hope), situated at the eastern end of the town. The church, also richly decorated with wall tiles, is greatly enriched by the frescoes, considered to be amongst the most precious and rare examples in the country.
In the Terreiro do Paço (Palace Square), Agostinhos (the Augustinian convent), founded in the thirteenth century and rebuilt in the seventeenth, was used as the burying place of the Dukes of Braganza from 1677 onwards. The church is an example of Portuguese Baroque, with its imposing but rather heavy facade flanked by two tall bell towers.
This open and airy square, with a total area of about sixteen thousand square meters is one of the most beautiful ones in the country. It is situated at the entrance of this noble and aristocratic town, when entering from Borba, Estremoz and the border town of Elvas. To its right are the Royal Chapel and the Palace gardens.
On the south side of the Square, almost directly opposite, is the convent of Chagas (the Wounds of Christ), which has a Renaissance doorway and is one of the most curious architectural features of the town. It was later used as the burying place of the Duchesses. The inside walls of the church are completely covered with multicoloured decorative wall tiles dating from 1626; the high altar is rich in gilt carving and sixteenth century paintings.
This was the former residence of the Dukes of Braganza from the beginning of the 16th century and was commenced in 1501-1502 (the north wing) and completed in the 18th century. The main façade is completely covered with local marble and takes Italian Renaissance architecture as its inspiration. The building has three floors and each one, from the ground floor to the last, corresponds to one of the classical orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
Within the fifty rooms open to the public are housed precious private art collections and extremely rare books which originally belonged to King Manuel II, Portugal's last reigning monarch. The art collection includes paintings by the best Portuguese artists of last century, Flemish and French tapestries, frescoes on walls and ceilings, furniture, porcelain from the Far East, Portugal, Italy and other countries, old armor including some very rare pieces made in the Far East, Portugal, Germany, France, etc. In the Library, which houses over 50,000 volumes and has a public reading room, there is a reserved collection of old Portuguese printed books (15th and 16th century), amongst which are to be found first editions of Os Lusíadas (1572), Comentários ao Pentateuco (1489), Vita Christi (1495), Almanaque de Abrado Zacuto (1496), Livro de Marco Paulo (1502), Tratado da Esfera by Pedro Nunes (1537), etc.
Go for a walk and notice the large amount of different houses there exists in town. This on is particulary great. Its located near the Largo de D. Joao IV.