Monsaraz, Portugal 10/2013
Following our difficult decision to bypass some of the more beautiful places in southern Portugal and head towards Spain, we were making better time now. There were still a couple locations on our route towards the Spanish border that our friend Soares insisted we must stop and see. The first was Monsaraz.
Due to its geographic location, the hilltop of Monsaraz and nearby areas have been occupied since pre-historic times. We spent the first night next to the megalithic circle of Cromlech of Xerez and were treated to a phenomenal sunset.
The hilltop where the main settlement is located was a fortification, or castro, before Roman occupation. It was later successively occupied by the Visigoths, Arabs, Mozarabs, Jews, and after the Reconquista, Christians loyal to Afonso Henriques.
In the 8th century, Monsaraz fell under the dominion of Arab forces that occupied the Iberian Peninsula. The name Monsaraz originates from the word Xarez or Xerez, the Iberian transliteration of its Arabic name Saris or Sharis for the Gum Rockrose, a plant that still prospers in poor, dry, acidic slate-based soil surrounding Monsaraz.
Of course you knew all that, right? We did too. Isn’t Google wonderful? What we didn’t know as we drove up the cobblestone streets towards the castle that unlike many other medieval towns we had visited, Monsaraz had apparently seen the value of visiting tourists and had created a beautiful flat parking area just outside the walled city especially for large vehicles like motorhomes. Just a 3-minute walk from the town center, we could explore the many cute gift shops selling locally produced pottery & weavings and inviting little cafés & restaurants. What a good idea!
Walking around we discovered that it was not only an amazing historic village but also a very friendly one. Unique to other castles in Portugal, the entrance was free and there was even a bullring.