Marvão – The Frontier

castelo marvão

Perched on a granite crag of the Serra de São Mamede, Marvão’s name is derived from an 8th-century Muladi duke, named Ibn Marwan. Ibn Marwan used the fortress as a power base when establishing an independent statelet (“emirate”, duchy) covering much of modern day Portugal  during the Emirate of Cordoba (884-931 CE). The castle and walled village were further fortified through the centuries, notably under Sancho II of Portugal (13th century) and Dinis of Portugal.

The village has generated significant tourist interest in recent years. It was included in the #1 New York Times bestselling book, ’1000 Places to see Before you Die’. Nobel prize-winning author José Saramago wrote of the village ‘‘From Marvão one can see the entire land…

It is understandable that from this place, high up in the keep at Marvão Castle, visitors may respectfully murmur, ‘How great is the world.’’

 In the 1950′s, author Huldine V. Beamish wrote of Marvão ‘”There is an atmosphere about the district (of Marvão) that is very ancient. At times you have the same peculiar feelings as those evoked by Stonehenge and that amazing druid monument at Callernish in the Isle of Lewis. Picking your way along the steep stony pathways, you would not be at all surprised to meet a Phoenician trader or Roman Soldier. It would be the most natural thing in the world.’.

An annual international classical music festival, under the artistic direction of German conductor Christoph Poppen, was launched in Marvão in July 2014.

marvc3a3o-2

Commanding spectacular views across the Tagus basin and Serra de Estrela to the north, the fortified rock of Marvão has been a site of significant strategic importance since the earliest human settlements.

Today lying on the line that divides Portugal and Spain, Marvão has consistently stood on a frontier zone between peoples: Celtici, Vettones and Lusitani (4th-2nd century BCE); Lusitanians and the Romans of Hispania Ulterior (2nd-1st century BCE); migratory Suevi, Alans, Vandals and Visigoths (5th-7th century CE); conquering moors and Visigoths (8th century); muwallad rebels and the Cordoban emirate (9th-10th century); Portuguese nation-builders and Moors (12th-13th century); Templars and Hospitallers (12th-14th century); Portuguese and Castilians (12th century-present day); Liberals and Absolutists (19th century); the fascist regimes of Salazar and Franco (20th century).

Marvão’s natural assets have contributed to the ‘uniqueness’ of this remote village as perceived by visitors today:  as nigh-impregnable ‘eagle’s nest’ fortress perched high on a granite crag, and bordered on the south and west by the Sever river; as vital lookout-point towards the Alcántara Bridge (70 km (43 mi) away), a wide stretch of the Tagus basin and the Serra de Estrela; as a gateway to Portugal from Spain via the Porta da Espada (‘Sword Gate’) mountain pass of the Serra de São Mamede. These assets have ensured its status as the ‘Mui Nobre e Sempre Leal Vila de Marvão’ (Very Noble and Ever-Loyal Town) into the present day.

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