In the middle of the great plain that characterizes the Alentejo landscape, we find a city on a hill properly nicknamed “Cidade Branca”, due to its whitewashed houses or perhaps the white marble deposits that made it internationally famous. A medieval castle crowns the top of the hill, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. It is thus the beautiful city of Estremoz, a land more than 8 centuries old which was home to kings and queens and the stage of important moments in the history of Portugal, preserving a rich cultural heritage. But it is by strolling through the labyrinthine streets of its medieval center that we feel the peaceful atmosphere of a typical Alentejo village, alive in the kindness of its simple people, in the rich flavors of its gastronomy and wines and in the uniqueness of its secular art.
Let’s discover the must-see sights and unveil the hidden gems in the white city of Estremoz!
A village filled with history
Four stunning gates give access to the medieval winding streets of Estremoz’s historic center: Saint Anthony Gate, Saint Catherine Gate, Corrals Gate, and Évora Gate. These medieval doors dating from the 17th century were made with the marble of Estremoz and give us a preview to the works of art we will find throughout the city.
Climbing the Estremoz Castle, built in the 12th century, means being in contact with a heritage of high historical value. Surely you will notice the Tower of the Three Crowns with its 28 meters high, and made of light marble - if you have the energy to climb the stairs to the top of it, be sure to appreciate the views over the city and the stunning landscape that surrounds it. Next to the castle, the ancient Royal Palace is the testimony of a past of kings and queens and all the court dramas. Nowadays, one can sleep inside those ancient walls and feel the atmosphere, as it is occupied by an inn.
As we walk through the city, we find many other wonderful historical monuments, such as churches and chapels representative of various eras, the grandest being the Church of Our Lady of the Conception of the Congregates. Also, be sure to admire the Couraça Towers, the Pillory of Estremoz, the Marquis of Praia and Monforte Palace, and the Maltezas Convent. This convent is located in Rossio do Marquês de Pombal, which is the central square of the city and one of the largest in Portugal. In this square, we can contemplate the beautiful mansions and peculiar buildings that surround it, such as the Café Águias D'Ouro. The Bernadim Ribeiro Theatre is also a fine example of Estremoz’s enchanting architectural heritage.
Nearby, Gadanha Lake will definitely make an impression. Built in 1688, this lake has a peculiar statue of the "Gadanha" in the middle of it. Some say this statue was previously in the Congregates Convent and was brought to the lake in secret by the locals. Legend has it that those who drink from the waters of this lake will have Estremoz in their heart forever, and we believe it to be true!
Estremoz white treasure: the marble
The origin of the name "Cidade Branca" or White City when referring to Estremoz remains uncertain, but the most grounded theory is related to the famous material extracted in the region: marble. Portugal is the second largest exporter of marble worldwide, of which 90% comes from the region called Anticlinal of Estremoz. It has been used in many famous monuments, such as the Palace of Versailles in France, the Vatican City, or the Franklin Memorial in the USA. Much closer to Estremoz, the main facade of the Palace of Vila Viçosa is a beautiful example of the application of this ornamental rock, due to its rare quality and beauty.
The white marble extraction industry assumes exceptional proportions and the industrial grandeur of the marble quarries is of unique magnificence, making your visit an unforgettable experience. Most quarries are outdoors and have a depth ranging between 15 and 50 meters, but there are explorations with higher depths, the deepest being about 110 meters.
The essence of Estremoz marble takes shape in numerous sculptures and materials that give life to another artistic expression of the region: the hydraulic mosaic, which composed (and still composes) many centenary spaces. Produced by hand, the hydraulic mosaic is created from marble powder and mixed with pigments, acquiring colorful unique patterns that easily enchant us with its effect. In Estremoz it is still possible to find factories of this traditional coating.
The Intangible Heritage
Declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2017, Estremoz’s Clay Figures are small clay dolls, painted in bright colors, which represent picturesque moments of life in the region. This art with more than three centuries can be found in workshops, shops, or in the city market. It is part of the identity of Estremoz and represents its small treasure. Their naive appearance may have originated from the people’s desire to have small figures of the Catholic saints of their devotion in their homes, but with no means to acquire them, they began to produce them! These lovely pieces evolved into quaint representations of domestic, agricultural, and industrial activities and famous people. The best known are the nativity scenes or the figure called "Love is Blind". You can learn more about these little dolls at the Centro Interpretativo do Boneco de Estremoz.
Also highlighted by UNESCO in 2015, the Manufacture of Cowbells is a unique art that characterizes the identity of an entire Alentejo region, of which Estremoz is part. These kinds of bells are placed on the neck of grazing animals, serving to indicate their whereabouts to the rest of the herd or to the shepherd, when they move away. Its sizes range from 2 to 50 centimeters high and its manufacture requires demanding craftsmanship, passed from generation to generation, in order to ensure it is tuned. It makes the unmistakable sound that is the soundtrack of the region.
Interesting museums to visit
The charming city of Estremoz has a wide cultural offer that begins in its museums, the most recent being the Berardo Museum of Estremoz. Here you will find the largest and most important private collection of tiles in Portugal. Housed in the historic Tocha Palace, also enriched with magnificent examples of tiles, this museum presents 800 years of tile history, spanning specimens from Persia to the Middle East, from Al-Andaluz, and, of course, from the Portuguese tradition.
The Municipal Museum of Estremoz Prof. Joaquim Vermelho, housed in a 13th-century building, presents a reconstitution of a traditional house, as well as typical crafts of the region, distributed by ceramic, cork, horn, and wood, including the traditional picturesque painted Alentejo furniture. In one of its courtyards, we can find a workshop with demonstrations of the creation of the traditional Estremoz clay figures.
In the Museum Center of Alfaia Agrícola, we find more than 4,000 pieces collected in old agricultural properties and properly restored. From a different perspective, the Centro de Ciência Viva de Estremoz allows interaction with the exposed objects and scientific experiments.
Mouthwatering gastronomy and wines
The Alentejo region is famous for its diverse and tasty cuisine, available in typical taverns and traditional restaurants. With a predominantly rural character, Estremoz knows how to develop a rich and exceptional cuisine thanks to the excellence of traditional products, where the use of herbs collected in its fields, olive oil from Alentejo olive groves, and homemade bread add another taste to the confection of some dishes. Some traditional dishes include the dogfish soup, the tomato soup, the traditional Alentejo bread soup, the gazpacho, the purslane soup, the Alentejo stew, and many others. Other typical delicacies include lamb stew, roasted lamb in the oven, “migas” with pork, pork “À Alentejana”, “feijoada”, broad beans with chorizo, coriander pork feet and so many other options that will leave you mouthwatering.
The Alentejo wine is the best option to go with this traditional gastronomy. The rural landscape that surrounds Estremoz is characterized by vast vineyards under the scorching sun that originate the rich and tasty wines of Estremoz. The meteorological characteristics of the region allow the production of a diverse set of grape varieties, giving the wine its own specificity that distinguishes it from others. Being a city linked to the production of wines since immemorial times, the many wineries produce a series of red, white, and rosé labels. Along with wine production, they also organize guided tours and tastings of wines and also regional products. And best of all, you can take some with you!
We should bear in mind that every meal is incomplete without a delicious dessert! With a strong conventual tradition, the desserts of Estremoz stand out for the use of egg yolks, almonds, and Gila pumpkin. The most typical sweet is called "Gadanha" and is a kind of almond and egg cake, slightly moist and moderately sweetened. A pleasure for the senses!
The idyllic nature
When we think of Estremoz, the first image that appears to us is the vast plains of golden fields under the intense heat of the Alentejo’s sun or vineyards in the maturation phase. However, less than 40 kilometers from Estremoz, there is a natural paradise that stands out for the green of its typical Mediterranean vegetation: the Serra d'Ossa. With a natural heritage that promotes the specific biodiversity of the region, this place is an invitation to outdoor activities. The more daring will like mountain biking or trail running, but the beauty of the landscape also appeals to tranquil activities, like cycling, horse riding or even walking. The trails created in the mountains include a passage through the Serra D'Ossa Walkways, which allow a greater enjoyment of the natural environment of lush vegetation, so distinct from what is usual in the region.
Why is Estremoz a must-visit?
Located in the heart of Alentejo, Estremoz is a picturesque village and one of the most prominent cities in the region, given its rich past but also its current importance. The charming historical legacy, the remarkable marble industry, and the exclusive handicraft make this city one of the best-kept secrets of Portugal. But it is also an unmissable destination because of its tranquil ambiance, its gentle people, and the humble way of living. Here you can taste incredible traditional food and rich wines matured by the Alentejo sun, you can breathe the fresh air and absorb the beauty of nature, and enjoy the proximity of Estremoz with other incredible cities of the region, like Évora or Elvas, Vila Viçosa, Monsaraz or Marvão, and even Spain. Should we meet in Estremoz?