Viana do AlentejoNEARBY
Roman “Villa” of Pisões (Beja)
The ruins of Pisões, very near Beja, with their two-thousand-year-old mosaics, are one of the archaeological sites that best testify to the Alentejo”s ancestral rural tradition.
In the “town” of Pisões, with its typically Roman architecture arranged around a peristyle (central courtyard surrounded by columns), you are bound to feel that you have been transported back to the beginnings of time, and you will start to imagine what everyday life was like for the residents, what hands touched these walls, what feelings moved them.
These ruins, one an important centre for supplying “Pax Julia”, as Beja was called from the first to the fourth century, reveal what is known as the “pars urbana”, the residential quarters. The “pars rustica” and the “pars fructuaria”, where the workers” quarters and granaries and tanks were located, are still unexcavated.
Farm workers discovered the villa by chance in 1967. The mosaic floors in the most important of the forty rooms of the “pars urbana” - monochrome and polychrome, with geometric or naturalist motifs - are themselves a sufficient reason for visiting Pisões. The town is situated in the Herdade de Algramaça, a few kilometres from Beja.
In the neighbouring area, be sure to visit the Roman dam, once essential for maintaining the very fine baths - which include a very well preserved hypocaust (underground heating system) -, and the remarkable Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The site of modern Beja has been occupied since the beginning of modern history. However, it was the Roman empire that most contributed to its early development. It was here, in 1 bc that Emperor Julius Cesar signed a peace treaty with the Lusitanian tribes who had previously ruled these lands. Henceforth, the settlement was named Pax Julia becoming the regional legal and administrative capital.
Modern Beja retains features of those Roman times including its layout while the Évora and Mértola gateways are located on the site of gates in the original Roman walls. The level of economic development can be seen in the range and scale of archaeological pieces that have been excavated. Many can be seen in the Rainha D. Leonor Regional Museum. Right by Beja, there is the Pisões Roman Town with exhibits depicting just how a Roman family of that period would actually have lived.
In the 6th century, the Visigoths conquered the territory and would remain until the 8th century when they were defeated by the Moors as they invaded the South of the Iberian Peninsula. A visit to the Visigoth Exhibit in the Regional Museum, located in the Church of Santo Amaro (Saint Amaro), is highly recommended as a means to learn more about Visigoth culture in a city they made their religious centre.
During the 12th century and the Christian Reconquest, Beja experienced turbulent times. First conquered by Christian forces in 1162, it was then subject to various counterattacks by Moors with peace only definitively established under king Afonso III in 1253. He then rebuilt the city granting it a royal charter (1254) and restoring its economic importance. At the end of the century, king Dinis ordered the building of the Castle, with its Torre de Menagem (donjon) becoming the city´s defining landmark.
Beja enjoyed periods of prosperity throughout the 15th century when king Afonso V established the Dukedom of Beja granting the title to his brother, Prince Fernando. King João II bestowed the Dukedom on his cousin, future king Manuel I. Henceforth, the dukedom would always become the possession of the king´s second son. This royal patronage took on a physical dimension in certain monuments. Among those deserving of a visit are the Convent of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of Conception), the Church of Misericórdia (Compassion), the Convent of São Francisco (Saint Francis), now a Pousada (Manor Hotel), the Church of Santiago, and the Church of the Pé da Cruz (Adoration of the Cross).
To help explore the city of Beja, the local Tourism Board has set up the "Sounds of Time", a guided tour of the city at your own pace through the use of headphones. The ideal time for a visit is March when the Ovibeja agricultural fair is held, a good pretext for knowing the region´s culture, history and economy.