Beja

Midway between Spain and the sea is Beja, the Lower Alentejo's principal agricultural center that spreads itself across a small knoll. Much of the oldest part of town retains a significantly Arabic flavor—students of Portuguese even claim that the local dialect has Arabic characteristics—the legacy of more than 400 years of Moorish occupation.

Beja, founded by Julius Caesar and known as Pax Julia, was an important town in the Roman province of Lusitania during the 1st century. The name Pax Julia was chosen because it was here, after a long struggle, that peace was finally established between the Lusitanian chiefs and Julius Caesar. You can see Roman artifacts and other tokens of Beja's long history at the wonderful regional museum in the Convento da Conceição and at the excavations in nearby Pizões.

Beja is also the legendary spot where a Portuguese nun fell passionately and secretly in love with a French army officer—their love letters created a scandal throughout 17th-century Europe (you can visit the convent where the love affair is said to have started).

Founded by Julius Caesar and known as Pax Julia, Beja is often overlooked in favor of its more popular and beautiful sister city, Évora, but that just means you’ll have the town all to yourself to explore. It’s also a classic example of an Alentejo town center that’s been emptied of its residents, some of whom have moved to modern apartment complexes on the city’s outskirts, and many others who’ve left altogether, seeking employment in Lisbon or Porto. Walking Beja’s streets, it seems like the majority of the population is over 65—a sobering idea when it comes to the future here.

Many of the town's most interesting monuments were destroyed in the 19th century during the population's fury against the church's domination. In spite of that, Beja has an important valuable heritage, and it can all be explored on foot.

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