15 things to do in Beja (Portugal)

Set in the fertile farmland of the Alentejo, this sleepy town is commanded by a marble castle tower. Beja has existed in some form since the Celts, and in Roman times it was named Pax Julia according to the treaty that placed Western Iberia under imperial yoke.

With the help of the Tourist Office, you can look for remnants of this period in excavated palaces, palaces attached to the city walls or under the glass floors of museums in ancient streets. Not to be missed is the Museu Rainha Dona Leonor, which has been open for over 200 years and showcases the magnificent decoration of the Convent of Conception.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Beja:

1. Leonor Museum, Renja Dona

Regnadona Leonor Museum

The former convent of Beja has been a museum of some kind since 1791, the oldest in Portugal.

Also known as the Beja Regional Museum, it’s an attraction that lets architecture and furniture speak.

There are many beautiful ornaments, such as traced balustrades on the chapel and cloisters, frescoes on the ceiling and walls, and numerous glazing, some of which date back to the construction of the monastery in the 1400s.

The monastery is also furnished with Flemish, Spanish and Portuguese paintings and you will see the story of Mariana Alcoforado.

She is the presumed author of the 17th century publication of the Cartas Portuguesas, a passionate letter to a French lover.

2. Beja Castle

beja castle

A symbol of Beja’s eternity, Torre de Menagem is made entirely of marble and has a 40-meter top, making it one of the tallest castles on the Iberian Peninsula.

Admire its late Gothic and Manueline styles up close in tracery and slender pointed Mellons.

At the top, you can see miles in all directions.

This allowed the castle to be occupied and reoccupied several times during the Moorish era, and as a fortress for the Portuguese against Spanish attacks from the east, it reflects the integrity of the castle.

3. Igreja de Santo Amaro

Church of San Amaro

The Beja Regional Museum has another branch in this old church.

Igreja de Santo Amaro was actually founded in the 900s when Beja was under Moorish control.

Although it is now a chapel within a new church dating back to the 1500s, this Portuguese national monument still retains much pre-Romanesque art.

It shows the first signs of the church hierarchy, with a vestibule for outsiders, a nave for members of the congregation and the equivalent of a choir, strictly for the clergy.

One of the columns has spiral carvings and the capitals have plant and animal motifs, including a pair of images of birds hunting snakes.

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4. Núcleo Museológico da Rua do Sembrano

Núcleo Museológico Da Rua Do Sembrano

Excavations in the centre of Beja in the 80s and 90s revealed signs of civilization as far back as the Bronze Age.

In Rua do Sembrano, the ruins are intact enough that the city decided to build a small museum on them with a glass floor so you can marvel at the layers of history beneath Beja street.

There are panels to explain what each building is for.

The Roman building comes from the city of Pax Julia, which was renamed by Julius Caesar after the Lusitani tribe and the Roman Empire brought peace in 48 BC. Ceramics, coins and other everyday objects are displayed in display cases on the wall.

5. Pelourinho de Beja

Pelorinho Debeja

No medieval Portuguese town is complete without handcuffs.

This is a practical tool for detaining criminals in a very public manner.

But it also has symbolic power, as a statement of authority.

During the Manuel period in the early 16th century, columns like this were made of highly decorative stonework.

The monument on Praça da República is a labor of love, reconstructed in 1938 using elements such as the original capital and part of the shaft preserved in the town’s archaeological museum.

Note the palm leaves and rosettes on the shaft, and the iron armillary sphere at the top, the emblem of King Manuel I and Portugal.

6. Jorge Vieira Museum

Jorge Vieira Museum

Jorge Vieira, a 20th century Surrealist sculptor and one of the country’s leading artists of the 50s and 60s, studied with Henry Moore in London.

In the 90s he donated a large number of his works to the town and in 1995 set up a museum in a lovely building in the old centre, which was in ruins until its restoration in 1992. There are about 20 abstract sculptures in a gallery on the ground floor, which offers temporary exhibitions for regional artists and a studio for Beja artists.

7. Acro Romano

Acoromano

This Roman arch next to the castle isn’t a dramatic sight, but it’s worth enough to be listed as a Portuguese National Monument.

If you’re an antiques lover, you might be uneasy knowing that these stones have been guiding people in and out of town for over 1,700 years.

Sandwiched between the walls of the old town and the medieval walls of the castle, it was found in the ruins of the gates that were demolished in the 16th century.

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It was reconstructed and preserved when archaeologists realized its value.

8. Monument to Prisioneiro Político Desconhecido

Monument Ao Prisioneiro Político Desconhecido

Jorge Vieira’s ties to Beja were strengthened in 1994, when he donated this eerie and moving piece of public art to the town.

This sculpture, designed for freedom of thought, was selected in 1953 at the International Sculpture Competition held by the Institute of Contemporary Art, London. It was also exhibited at the Portuguese Pavilion at the Brussels World’s Fair in 1958. Like the “Monument to Unknown Political Prisoners,” you can understand how this sculpture didn’t have a permanent home until 1994, nearly 20 years after the fall of the repressive Estado Novo regime.

9. Ruínas Romanas de Pisões

Ruínas Romanas De Pisões

When you stop by the tourist office in Beja, be sure to ask about these Roman ruins southwest of the town.

They are absolutely magnificent, but there is controversy among the different authorities responsible for the site, and there is no official opening time.

You can arrange a tour with a local guide, which is recommended.

This used to be a huge palace with as many as 40 rooms.

Excavations uncovered some awesome mosaics, the entire heating system and remaining colonnade, and fragments of Doric columns.

10. Jardim Gago Coutinho e Sacadura Cabral

Jardim Gago Coutinho E Sacadura Cabral

This peaceful green space to the southeast of the old center has an interesting past: from the Middle Ages until the 1500s, it was part of the Convent of San Francisco and was used as a kitchen garden.

Then in the 16th century it was turned into a military training ground until the 1800s.

But as the town grew in the 19th century, the residents of Beja needed a park, so a lake was dug, exotic native trees were planted, and avenues were paved, flanked by iron gas lamps.

This time there is also a lovely cast iron gazebo and a playground for toddlers and younger children.

11. Museu Botânico

Museum Botany

Some science museums focus on interactivity, but focus on facts.

The Botanical Museum at Beja Agricultural College is not one of them.

Here’s a draw for those who are fascinated by plant life and biology and want the bare-bones facts and academic rigor.

Founded in 2002, the museum hosts short-term exhibitions every few months.

These often involve the application of plants to humans and how we use resins, seeds, pigments, fibers, wood and even the structure of plants for any purpose.

12. Teatro Municipal Pax Julia

Teatro Municipal Pax Julia

In the 2000s, many of the largest Portuguese towns were equipped with fancy new theatres and cultural centres.

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Beja did the same, but with a twist, repurposing its splendid cinema, which was built in 1928 but abandoned in 1990. The building is Art Deco, but draws on Beja’s Roman heritage, resembling a huge villa, similar to what a palace might have seen in Pisões.

Reopened in 2005, the venue is beloved by the town, featuring folk music, live bands, orchestras, theatre, dance and comedy, as well as movie nights in unforgettable settings.

If you come here for a movie, most adult movies have a “VO” label, which means they have Portuguese subtitles instead of dubbing.

13. Museu Episcopal de Beja

Museu Episcopal De Beja

Housed in the Igreja de Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres (Church of Our Lady of Joy), this charming museum has been open since 1892. It is based on the religious upheaval that occurred in the century following the suppression of Portuguese monasteries in 1834. All ceremonial artifacts that would otherwise have left the town were brought here and displayed.

There are paintings, sculptures, goldwork, gilded carvings, glazing, and even some vestments.

14. Wine

St. Victoria's House

There have always been vineyards around Beja and winemaking is an ancestral activity, but now is the perfect time to experience the industry as a tourist.

Eight estates are within a few minutes’ drive of town: Casa de Santa Vitória, Herdade dos Grous, Herdade da Mingorra and Herdade do Vau.

You can taste their wares, immerse themselves in their craftsmanship, and learn about grape varieties and soils.

But there’s no better place to have a wine tasting or a good meal.

The same goes for Herdade dos Grous, a bar housed in a noble 18th-century mansion overlooking 55 hectares of vineyards that you can explore by tractor or horseback.

15. Food

Portuguese sausage

To get to know a town like Beja, get to know its flavor.

There is honey, which is always clear and amber or yellow in color, or olive oil, which has been produced in Beja since ancient times and is usually pressed in the same estate as the winery.

The eastern part of the Alentejo region is also known for its sausages, which help preserve the meat after slaughter and use pig cuts that are not used for other purposes.

There are many varieties such as linguiça, botifarra, batateira and portuguese sausages.

Finally, queijo serpa is a buttery sheep’s cheese that matures for up to four months.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Beja, Portugal
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