Right on the border of Spain and Portugal, a near stones-throw away from the Spanish city of Badajoz, Elvas is a historically important but rarely visited little gem, with castles, aqueducts and star fortress shape. Fortunately and unfortunately, it is practically unknown, and so over-population and tourist damage are not a factor. From my medieval city of Caceres, it's just over an hour drive, and even from the capitals of Madrid and Lisbon it's only four or three hours respectively. I love these kind of places that feel like they have been forgotten. there is something tragic and moving about a towering 16th Century aqueduct that is no longer cared for or loved and admired!
In the northern corner of the city, this mixed age castle strengthens the city defences. Originally constructed in the 8th Century by Muslim armies conquering the area, the castle was adapted and shaped for the next 400 years, until it was finally given up to the Spanish forces in the early 13th Century. I loved the good state that the castle is in, and the way you can really get a sense of what it would have been like to walk around the castle in the early Medieval period. The low ceilings and intact brickwork all show visitors what life was in this dry and hot border region.
The solid, seemingly impregnable walls in the photo above show you the strength and seriousness of these walls, which were very much meant for war time! There are also amazing views that look out towards the northern countryside, and really show the value of having a raised viewing platform in a flat region.
Although not a Roman construction like the aqueduct in Merida, the Amoreira Aqueduct is still a marvel of technology and engineering. Bringing water from eight kilometres away, the early 16th Century construction was the only water source for miles around, as many of the wells and water holes around had dried up in this hot, dusty and arid zone. At the highest point, there are four arches, one on top of each other, providing the height required to bring water all the way from the spring in the Serra do Bispo hills. Water engineering always interests me, as its something that we take for granted every day. Imagining the effort, work and money needed to finish this daunting project is incredible
Elvas is one of the largest examples of star fortress shapes in Portugal or Spain, with its walls stretching out into points to provide cover and extra firepower against any potential attackers. The seven bastions (shapes that are built to extrude from the straight part of a castle/city wall) are also aided by two other smaller star forts very close to the city. La Lippe and Santa Luzia both provide extra protection and fortifications, and show just how contested and conflict-filled a region this was from the 8th to 17th Century.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.