Rising like a pyramid above vast plains of surrounding wheat fields, Beja stands proud as the capital of the Lower (Baixo) Alentejo region. Founded by Julius Caesar himself, it was known in Roman times as Pax Julia until the Moorish invasion in AD 711 when it grew into an important cultural centre.
Beja is most famous for the Letters of a Portuguese Nun, supposedly written by Sister Mariana Alcoforado of the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Conceição during her love affair with a French military officer in the 17th century. Housing the regional museum, the former convent is where she lived until her death in 1723, sixty years after her lover rode away. The cloister is filled with stone remains of Roman, Moorish and medieval civilisation, while the nuns’ chapter house contains some of the finest examples of Sevillian Moorish azulejo tiles in the country.
Built in the early 14th century, Beja Castle affords panoramic views from its 40-metre-high keep. The 16th century Church of São Tiago adjacent to the castle is notable for its striking interior. The Latin-Visigothic Church of Santo Amaro, one of just four pre-Romanesque churches in Portugal, is also in very close proximity to the castle.
Situated at Almocreva, just 10 km southwest of Beja, lies the Villa of Pisões, once a place of Roman agricultural activity. Discovered in the 1960s, the partly excavated site dates from the 1st century AD and includes a group of houses with forty rooms, extensive floor mosaics, a spa area and sections of richly decorated walls.