Not many people would know this place exists. I only came here because I was crossing the border from Spain to Portugal by car and stumbled upon it. Juromenha is ruins. The ruins of a fortified town. One that protected a kingdom from invaders. One that was part of an empire that spread across the globe. And yet here it lies in ruins, an already partly crumbled castle and empty decrepit church surrounded by fortress walls in a largely unknown and isolated spot, atop a hill overlooking the River Guadiana.
Humans had been in this little spot for centuries upon centuries. Even before it was a small Roman settlement, Celtic tribes inhabited the land, presumably because from here they would have access to water from the river, and being situated atop a hill is always a good place to be if you ever have to defend yourself from potential attacks.
Like many other Roman settlements across Portugal and Spain, Juromenha would later be controlled by the Moors whose huge Muslim empire ruled large parts of the Iberian Peninsula for over 700 years. From the 10th century onwards, Juromenha was a defensive fort ruled by the Caliphate of Córdoba. Its purpose was to protect the nearby city of Badajoz from the Christians who resided in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, and who would recapture the territory in 1167, only to lose it again to the Moors in 1191.
In 1242 however, the Christians, who we now know as the Portuguese, reconquered Juromenha and would go on to build an even larger defensive fort which they would use in centuries to come when at war with their neighbours, the Spanish. It twice fell under Spanish control for short periods of time; first from 1662 to 1668; and then again from 1801 to 1808 during the so-called War of the Oranges. After the First World War, however, such forts lost their effectiveness, as the world was introduced to aerial bombardments. Therefore, the fort was abandoned in 1920 and has remained a ghost town of Portuguese history ever since.
What I love about finding these abandoned hidden gems is the feeling of having my own private access to an undiscovered museum, where nothing is behind glass, where swarms of people are nowhere to be found, and where I can walk freely and peacefully within the fortress walls and up and down the stone staircases of fallen empires from a forgotten world.
But there is also a certain sadness about places like Juromenha. Its ruins are a symbol of a time that has not simply been forgotten but also, an entire history that has been neglected and left to decay. I felt it walking inside the empty church and as I climbed the Moorish tower from which I stood beside a hoisted Portuguese flag and gazed across the river in Spain. One can only hope that such rare and secret remnants of the past will not be left to completely crumble.
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