Not from the Spanish border, Moura is a medieval town with a rich Moorish heritage.
Take the Mouraria community, which looks very similar to what it was 700 years ago, when it was an enclave of a minority Muslim population.
Moura is still protected by a castle, with a park on the ramparts and idyllic views of olive groves and sun-drenched hills.
A huge reservoir is just a short walk from Mora, where sailing and recreation can be enjoyed in the water in summer.
When the sun goes down, the city is illuminated, not by street lights, but by the brightest night sky you’ll ever see. The area has won awards for its stargazing.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Mora:
1. Mora Castle
The summit of Mora’s highest mountain has seen human activity for thousands of years, and the Thebes from ancient Greece settled here before the Romans arrived.
What makes this perch popular is the presence of a permanent source of water in an otherwise arid landscape.
The castle was formed during the Moorish era and was fortified by King Denis I in the 13th century. The castle is the highlight, surviving thanks to its solid marble.
It contains a magnificent octagonal vaulted room supported by slender columns.
Go up the spiral staircase to the battlements and enjoy the view.
2. Moraria de Mora
Mora has the oldest Moorish quarter in Portugal, which was used as a sanctuary for Christians long before the city was occupied.
For defensive roles, it has very tight, winding streets.
After regaining lost territory, the Moors were forced to resettle in this area outside the castle walls.
They maintained their identity until 1496 when they had to convert to Christianity or leave.
The area is an alley and three intersecting streets of single-storey cottages with peculiar domed chimneys.
3. Dominican Monastery
The monastery, on the same site as the castle, was built in 1562 and is partly in ruins.
The church still stands and has a Renaissance design.
Don’t miss its bold whitewashed facade and three imposing arches.
In the nearby ruins of the Presbyterian Church you can see a portal with a coat of arms inscribed on its eardrum.
Most fascinating inside is the Manueline (early 16th century) tomb of brothers Álvaro and Pedro Rodrigues, who helped plan the successful attack on the city in 1166.
4. Jardim Doutor Santiago
On the same level as the castle is a garden supported by a wall built in the 16th century to defend against shelling.
The park was built in the 1800s and was named after the mayor at the time in 1934.
You enter through grand portals on either side of the arcade, and an antique horse-drawn fire truck is displayed in the garden.
Again, the view from this height is sensational and you can clearly see the Alqueva Dam.
Pause for a moment to admire these views and rest under palms and evergreens that were planted more than 100 years ago.
5. Municipal Museum
Mora’s Municipal Museum houses a large collection of objects recovered from excavations or passed down from generation to generation.
The core of this collection was first exhibited as early as 1884, but it wasn’t until 1993 that the museum had a permanent home.
The earliest works here are from the prehistoric period, the most recent dating back to the 1700s.
Among antique weapons, ceramics, jewelry, and glassware, there’s one item you just can’t leave without looking.
This is the image of the “Kai Shen” from the Iron Age about 2,500 years ago.
6. Alqueva Reservoir
Once a valley of cork oaks and olive trees, it is now one of the largest reservoirs in Europe, covering 25,000 hectares.
This was only formed in the 2000s by the Alqueva Dam, a megastructure completed in stages between 1995 and 2013. The potential for water sports here was quickly recognized.
You can rent a yacht, jet ski, kayak or canoe, or try waterskiing and waterskiing.
If you prefer firmer ground, the bank now offers trails for cyclists and walkers with views of the dam and dry countryside.
The eastern Alentejo has vast waters, no big cities, and almost no light pollution.
This is further facilitated by an agreement between towns such as Moura and Barrancos to keep street lights as low as possible.
The total area of the scheme has now reached 3,000 square kilometers.
The Starlight Initiative has labelled the area a “Starlight Tourism Destination”. The result is a starry tapestry in the night sky.
You can bring your own binoculars, of course, but if you need expert help (think nighttime canoe tour of Alqueva Reservoir), there are a variety of experiences.
8. Atalaya Magra
Another great spot for a stroll is this solitary lookout tower, perched on top of a hill, dotted with knobby cork oaks and olive trees.
You can drive to part of there on the N258 or walk.
Your goal is a four-storey 14th-century circular Gothic tower.
It was an intrusion warning system when Portugal was at war with the Kingdom of Castile.
Watchmen will send signals back to Mora and communicate with the other three hilltop towers in the area.
Considering its age and remote setting, the tower is in good shape and you can still reach the upper level via a spiral staircase.
9. Núcleo Árabe
In Largo da Mouraria, in the old Moorish quarter, you have a museum about the Islamic period of Mouraria.
At the center is a Moorish well with clay walls, dating back to the 14th century.
It is one of many riveted handicrafts such as bone amulets, carved stones, Islamic coffins and a large collection of ceramics recovered from excavations.
The museum also provides insight into the daily life of the Moors, documenting their cuisine and customs and how they navigated the Guadiana River.
10. Igreja de São João Batista
The parish church of Moura was built in the early 1500s under King Manuel I, and it was built on the slope when the congregation surpassed the abbey church in the castle.
An interesting aspect of the church’s layout is that the central nave is reserved for the clergy and nobles, while the burghers must stand in the aisles.
In the nave, you can feast your eyes on the fine marble pulpit, while Chancel’s blue glazed tiles have geometric patterns painted in his Seville studio.
11. Carmo Abbey
The monastery was founded shortly after Mora was reoccupied during the reign of Alfonso III in the mid-13th century.
Due to subsequent expansions and reconstructions, the monastery combines Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance designs.
The monastery was the first sorority of the Carmelite Order on the Iberian Peninsula, and was at one time the seat of the Portuguese Order.
If you’re a keen student of medieval history, you’ll probably find symbols of the Order of Malta on the facade, main portal and cloister.
Look up in the nave to see the coffered ceiling carved from the early 16th century.
12. Igreja Paroquial de Santo Aleixo da Restauração
This 17th-century church has a fascinating story to tell, mainly because it has been on the path of invading armies.
An early version was destroyed by Castilian troops in 1626. Again, in the early 18th century, it was partially demolished in the War of the Spanish Succession.
Reconstruction in 1733 made it a fusion of early Mannerism and later Baroque designs.
The façade is decidedly baroque, with scrolls on the gables, and the best features of the interior are the symbolic blue and white tiles and the delicate stucco relief of the nave, reminiscent of the station of the cross.
13. Lagar de Varas de Fojo
Mora’s countryside has produced olives for oil since the Romans.
You’ll feel the connection to the mill’s centuries of oil production, in a grove of trees over a thousand years old.
The factory’s first record is from 1810, and it didn’t produce oil until 1941. Automatic machines took over then, but Lagar de Varas de Fojo shows you how it used to be done by hand, with just a spring to press the oil.
Not a single piece of the factory is missing, making it a small piece of Portuguese and Spanish agricultural history.
14. Azeite de Moura
Moura’s olive oil is highly rated and has its own Protected Designation of Origin.
Even though the machine has taken over, the process is simple: just wash, grind, mash, spin and filter.
Food lovers should take note of the Cooperativa Agrícola de Moura e Barrancos (Cooperativa Agrícola de Moura e Barrancos). This is on the south side of town and sells virgin and extra virgin oil in 0.5, 0.75, 3 and 5 liter bottles.
Well, five liters of oil might be an excess, but a small bottle of extra virgin oil would make a great gift.
15. Food and drink
In addition to the acclaimed olive oil, there are many other local products to taste here.
Wherever there is olive oil, there are good olives, and these will be served as snacks in bars or restaurants.
Moura’s honey is great, as is the cured sausage and cheese, while locally grown grapefruit ripens in late winter and early spring.
On the menu, Miga is leftover bread, marinated and fried in garlic, and served with many entrees.
Meanwhile, açorda is a bread-based broth that is a meal in itself.
Lamb stew is the signature dish of the Alentejo and pairs perfectly with the rich red wines of the region.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Mora, Portugal
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