A medieval city on the way to Spain, Serpa is still watched over by its castle and walls. Being so close to the border, the town endured many sieges and sackings, all of which followed the medieval conflict between the Portuguese kingdom and the Moors.
The ancient walls and castle still stand, and dotted with the old olive grove landscape, which turns green to gold in summer. On the west wall of the city, you can see the bizarre sight of the 17th-century aqueduct built on the old fortifications, while inside the city walls you can learn about the intricate alleys.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Serpa:
1. Serpa Castle
Sacked by the Spaniards and abandoned since the 1600s, Serpa’s castle dominates the town and is a charming ruin.
But this has no effect on the monument, as its battlements are still intact, and you can scramble to investigate the town and the Alentejo countryside.
There has been some sort of fort here since at least the Romans, but the timeline of this castle starts with the Moors in the 700s.
It was surrounded by Christian and Moorish armies before Alfonso III finally conquered the southern Algarve during the Reconquista in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Take a closer look at the structure of the walls, as you may find some recovered Roman funerary stones with inscriptions still clearly visible.
2. Muralhas de Serpa
Serpa’s medieval facades still guard most of the old town to this day.
The most photogenic section has to be on the west side, where the wall is covered by the aqueduct we’ll discuss next.
Below this you will see the Porta de Beja, the most impressive of Serpa’s two remaining city gates.
The portal is flanked by two muscular jagged towers.
In the garden under the east wall, there are tall cypress and olive trees with thick and gnarled trunks, which must be thousands of years old.
Another opening is on the northeast side of the Porta de Moura, with two noble cypress trees and the remnants of the stairs that served the battlements.
3. Aqueduto de Serpa
On the west side of the city is a remarkable sight of the aqueduct along the top of the city walls.
More unusually, this is not a public project to supply water to the city: instead, it was built for a dwelling, the Solar dos Condes de Ficalho, to support the city’s defenses.
At the southern end of the aqueduct you will see the wheels that direct the water from the Moorish well to the aqueduct.
4. Museum of Religion
The Clock Museum of Serpa, the only attraction of its kind on the Iberian Peninsula, is located in the monastery do Mosteirinho.
This dates back to the 15th century and provides an atmospheric backdrop for the exhibits.
There are about 2,400 mechanical watches, the oldest of which is from 1630. It all stems from a private collection that started in the 1970s with just three broken watches.
Perhaps the exhibit is a 17th-century Edward East clock, and the museum turned down some six-figure offers.
The museum is now in its second generation and has its own clock restoration workshop.
5. Igreja de Santa Maria de Serpa
On the square of the same name near the top of Serpa, the town’s church may have been built over a Moorish mosque.
The bell tower is most likely the minaret of the mosque.
While the rest of the exterior is more Baroque, inside you can tell that the church’s origins are medieval by the Gothic pointed arches that separate the nave from the two aisles.
These are supported by columns with leaf-like patterns, carved around the 14th century.
The altar at the end of the church and the two adjoining chapels are a 1500s Mannerist extension and they are filled with 1700s style Baroque gilded wood.
6. Serpa Old Town
Within the city walls, Serpa had a town layout designed to make it difficult for invaders to survive.
There is a confusing ravine-like street surrounded by beautiful whitewashed houses and wrought-iron balconies.
Turn a corner and you’ll suddenly come to the spacious Republic Square, facing Serpa’s vaulted town hall.
Take a break in a café or browse the bakeries and cork artisan shops in this square and its side streets.
Also make time to visit the Solar dos Condes de Ficalho, which stands against the wall and was once fed by a 17th-century aqueduct.
7. Torre do Relógio
Also at the highest point in town, next to Santa Maria Church, you can’t help but notice this striking square tower.
The building has been clocked since 1440, making it the third oldest clock tower in Portugal.
Decades later, during the reign of Manuel I, decorations, turrets, bell towers and melons were added to the top.
The rest of the tower is older and probably dates from the reign of King Denis I in the 14th century, when the defenses of Selba were strengthened.
8. Museu Municipal de Arqueologia
In the inner courtyard of the castle, there is a small museum, which reopened in 2016 after being closed for 10 years and investing 1 million euros.
All the artifacts found during the Serpa excavations end up in these galleries.
The museum deals with the town’s prehistoric, bronze and Iron Age heritage on the ground floor, while the ground floor deals with everything from Roman times to the Middle Ages.
There’s pottery, Roman tombstones like you’d see on the castle walls, Templar crosses and Bronze Age necklaces.
9. Ermida de Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe ou de São Gens
On a small hill a few kilometers from Serpa is the retreat of the city’s patron saint, Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe.
The saint has been revered in these areas since the 500s, when Leander of Seville brought a statue of Marian here from Rome.
The chapel is of Gothic Mudejar architecture and its dome reflects a strong Moorish influence.
Outside there is a glazed tile depicting the Sacred Heart of Mary, and a stunning view of the Alentejo landscape of dry hills and olive groves.
On the altar, the current Marian image dates back to the 1400s and is nested in gilded wood.
10. Museu Etnográfico de Serpa
In another immersive setting of the museum, Serpa’s ethnographic collection is located in the city’s former municipal market from the late 1800s.
Opened here in 1987, the museum showcases Selba’s ancestral craftsmanship and craftsmanship, many of which were lost during the industrialization of agriculture in the mid-20th century.
You will find reconstructed workshops or antique utensils belonging to basket weavers, wheel makers, potters, blacksmiths, cheesemakers, furniture makers, potters, fishermen, shoemakers and tailors.
Each transaction is marked with a bilingual message board and enlarged black and white photos.
11. Ermida de Santa Luzia de Pias
In the same borough, there is also an isolated hideaway in the nearby town of Pias.
This one is located in a lowland among gentle slopes covered with fallow land.
The view is golden in summer, dotted with rows of spiky cypress or olive trees.
This chapel wouldn’t look out of place in a Western movie, especially since the old cemetery next to it has crumbling walls and is overgrown with shrubs and evergreens.
The building is Manueline, from the 1500s, with faded frescoes on its barrel vaults and decorative capitals on the arches between the nave and the altar.
12. Pulo do Lobo
If you stick to the Guadiana River as you enter Vale do Guadiana Natural Park, you’ll come to a waterfall at the head of a rugged canyon.
The environment is both harsh and beautiful, with rocks eroded into jagged shapes by green water.
Guadiana has a lot of life in this arid environment, and if you’re patient, you might see water snakes and turtles in the water, as well as various birds including raptors circling overhead.
It is best to come in the spring when there is water as it can be a bit dry in the summer.
13. Outdoor Activities
If you get to Serpa before the summer gets really hot, the low-mountain countryside is a delight to travel on foot or by bike.
Spring is especially lovely, when fallow fields are blanketed with marigolds.
You can stop by the tourist office in town or contact several companies like Serpa Lovers for details on one-off activities such as guided walks or balloon rides.
Many vacation rentals also rent canoes or stand-up paddleboards to the Alqueva Reservoir, a half-hour drive north of town.
This vast body of water only dates back to the 2000s, when the $1.7 billion Alqueva Dam was built.
Night events are also organized near Serpa, as the night sky is brilliant in this far corner of Portugal.
14. Day out
The cities of Beja and Moura are both within 30 km and both should be kept in mind.
In Beja, the show was stolen by the gothic castle of the castle: at 40 meters high, it is the tallest medieval tower in the country and is made almost entirely of marble.
In the northeast, Mora is a town with a Moorish flavor.
Mouraria here is a small neighborhood of winding alleys that was populated by the town’s Islamic population until the 15th century.
There is also a museum in one of the low huts with an original clay well and various inscribed medieval stones and ceramics.
15. Food and drink
For most of Serpa’s existence, people would go out to eat, so games were still on the menu in town.
We’re talking about partridges, rabbits, hares and wild boars, paired with stews and roast lamb and pork.
At Serpa’s Alentejano, all the seasonings are sourced from the countryside, with wild rosemary, mint, oregano, parsley and cilantro all abundant.
Olives and olive oil are specialties, and if you want to take home a bottle of extra virgin oil, there are many private producers and agricultural cooperatives.
A glass of rich Alentejo wine is perfectly paired with local cured ham (Presunto), olives and Serpa’s creamy sheep cheese.
In summer, a bowl of gaspacho made with diced tomatoes, onions, peppers and cucumbers is always an eye-catcher.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Serpa, Portugal
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