Bulwarked Fortifications of the "Raia" (Border)
The Bulwarked Fortifications of the "Raia" are four fortified towns in Portugal located along the border with Spain, of which Elvas is already inscribed as WHS. The Spanish-Portuguese border, called ‘A Raia’, is the oldest borderline in Europe and has existed almost unchanged since the end of the 13th century. The bulwarked fortifications in their present appearance were built in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Map of Bulwarked Fortifications of the "Raia" (Border)Load map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
This Tentative WHS includes three fortified towns on the Spanish-Portuguese border proposed as an extension of the already inscribed Garrison Border Town of Elvas. Of these, I visited Almeida and Marvão on my trip to Portugal in May 2018. In both towns, the first fortifications date back to the Middle Ages, presumably built by the Moors. In the following centuries, the medieval castles were expanded to fortified towns. The bulwark constructions as they have been preserved until today date mainly from the 17th and 18th centuries. But that's where the similarities end. The two cities could hardly be more different. This is mainly due to their different locations: Almeida is situated on a high plateau and Marvão was built on the top of a high crag.
The defensive walls of Almeida form a perfect twelve-pointed star, similar to the fortified cities of Palmanova and Neuf-Brisach. But in contrast to the Italian and French examples, Almeida is not a planned town with a symmetrical layout. The fortifications have been built around the medieval town. The complete system of bastions, ravelins and casemates has been preserved. Within the walls, you can still visit the ruins of the castle. Apart from that the two massive gates, Porta de São Francisco and Porta de Santo António, are the most striking monuments.
About 50 kilometres from Almeida is its Spanish twin, Ciudad Rodrigo, a likely candidate if a transnational nomination will be compiled. And between the two towns, right on the border, is the Real Fuerte de la Concepción, a star-shaped fort that is now a 4-star hotel. I stayed there for one night.
Marvão Castle is located on the highest point of a granite rock and offers beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. It looks like you would expect a medieval castle to look: high granite walls with battlements and turrets, an austere central keep, a cistern to collect rainwater. The walled town of Marvão (photo) occupies the entire mountain ridge below the castle. It is a picturesque place with its white-washed houses, tiled roofs and small churches. There are no modern additions and no modern town outside the walls, simply because there is not enough space on this steep rock.
'A Raia' (the stripe) is the oldest separation line between two European countries and was the site of military conflicts for many centuries. A transnational nomination would have a good chance of inscription. The corresponding entry on the Spanish tentative list from 1998 is not very detailed and also includes fortified towns on the border with France. More focus would be required. And it would be necessary to identify enough outstanding and well-preserved sites in both countries to represent this historically important border in its entire length.
Almeida and Marvão are both worth a visit, but neither can compete with Elvas. Thus, a thumbs down from me for the proposal in its present form.
I visited this tentative WHS in July 2020 focusing on the Stronghold of Almeida which is possibly the best bulwarked fortification out of the 4 locations in Portugal. I had already visited and reviewed the Garrison Border Town of Elvas in 2014. Spain also has a separate bulwarked fortification tentative WHS made up of 8 locations, of which I visited Aldea del Obispo and Ciudad Rodrigo (already reviewed in Spain's Romanesque Cultural Enclave tentative WHS) in July 2020 and Pamplona along the Camino Frances in April 2016. I think that with some more trimming from both parties of already inscribed WHS and the weaker locations, this tentative WHS could secure inscription on the WH list if sought as a transnational WHS, following Italy/Kotor/Croatia's footsteps with the Venetian Works of Defence.
Almeida lies only a few kilometres away from the border with Spain, just opposite the fortifications of Ciudad Rodrigo. While the latter fortifications across the border in Spain only protect the highest hill side of Ciudad Rodrigo, the ones in Almeida surround it in a star-like shape and practically are one with the town they protect. I was really positively surprised by the fact that all the narrow gates and streets of Almeida are still accessible by car (although I'd suggest parking for free outside and walking) and fully inhabited by locals not a mere touristic museum town. There are signposted hiking trails around and beneath the fortifications, as well as above them and an interesting small museum next to one of the gates. The fortress was built in a Vaubanesque style, to which the French military engineer is believed to have personally been involved during end of its construction. We were the only visitors around and I had a field day testing my drone from outside Almeida, paying extra attention not to disturb the scores of kites, buzzards and vultures competing against each other to secure the best thermal currents.
This site contains four fortified places on the Spanish-Portuguese border. Most of them were built in XVIth century or after. Out of four location of this proposal, one is already on the main list (Elvas), so if the whole proposal is inscribed in this shape, for most it would be an easy tick. We managed to visit another one – stronghold of Almeida and it was one of our biggest surprises in this marvellous country.
What stroke us the most is that the stronghold remained practically untouched for more than four centuries, despite the fact that there is still a living town inside. It means that the town can be accessed through several, quite narrow, historical gates. Stronghold walls, moans, ramparts are in the excellent condition and are really picturesque. Of course it all caused relative closure of the town and favored petrification of its architecture. Almeida is one of the nicest small towns we visited. I have never seen a complete fortified town like this and I think it justifies OUV of the proposal.
Includes part of former TWHS Town of Marvao and the craggy mountain on which it is located (2000)
includes Conjunto fortificado de Pamplona
2017 Added to Tentative List
2006 Requested by State Party to not be examined
As Town of Marvao and the craggy mountain on which it is located
The site has 4 locations