Marvao, the Portuguese village that wants to be a World Heritage Site

The village and the rugged mountains in which it is located have been on UNESCO’s list of candidates for World Heritage status since 2000. Find out in this article why this heritage beauty is on this highly prized list. 

Marvão is a Portuguese village in the district of Portalegre, Alentejo region and intermunicipal community of Alto Alentejo, with about 600 inhabitants. A very small village in the beautiful Portugal that always invites us to discover the traces of its historical Middle Ages. Portugal requires a unique treatment, which should be used in the best way, naturally and relaxed 100%.


Spain and Portugal share borders, and Marvao is one of the closest points between these two countries. Only a few kilometres separate this wonderful town from Valencia de Alcántara, and you can get there simply by taking a national road that may not be the most comfortable but will give you iconic landscapes that will be hard to forget. 

The Sao Mamede mountain range gives the indication that we are already close to Marvao, as the castle is displayed on the top of this hill, protected by its walls, the Portuguese saint’s grotto appears. 

The location of Marvão on the top of the cliff is not fortuitous. From this location, the defensive and surveillance function of the city was absolute and invasion would be practically impossible. But the reality is quite the opposite, as Marvão has seen several civilisations pass through its borders since Roman times and, although it was seized from the Muslims in the mid-12th century, the Caliphate managed to regain it occasionally, as it was even disputed for decades between Muslim governors.

This bustling atmosphere led to the construction of a castle and fortifications around the town of Marvão. If you leave your car at the edge of the wall, you can walk up to the castle. There is a small tourist office near the car park, located next to one of the original entrances to the town.


As soon as we pass through the arch that is so characteristic of this town, we travel back to the times of the crusader knights and the banners as the sun beats down on the whitewashed houses, perfectly painted in the unique white of Marvao. Although the castle dates back to the 12th century, subsequent modifications were not carried out until the 17th century. That is why, if you look carefully at the structures, you will notice these changes in the material and in the arrangement of the elements.

The walls lead you on a journey of contemplation that can leave you speechless, admiring the beautiful architecture, the impressive natural surroundings and the vertigo of being so high up. Every little corner is a viewpoint, not to mention for photography enthusiasts, as this is one of the best destinations for it! 

The castle is in very good condition. That is why it was declared a national monument in 1922 and since then it has been one of the main attractions on the Portuguese medieval castle route. On the way to the fortress, we will have to pass through the parade ground and pass by the cistern, which is one of the largest and best preserved medieval cisterns in the whole country.

The highest point of all Marvao is the Torre del Homenaje, and it has the most spectacular views to fall in love with this beautiful landscape. In fact, it is said that you can see the whole of Europe from there. Over the years different structures have been added to the fortress, such as some defence cannons that are in such perfect condition that they can even be used today.


The view from here is spectacular, unbeatable if you can sit on the terrace of the neighbouring restaurant. The whole historical-artistic ensemble of Marvão has left historians and lovers of art and culture speechless, but this has not been the case with UNESCO. Despite the fact that both the medieval city and the incredible natural park that adorns it have been candidates for World Heritage status since 2000, UNESCO seems reluctant to recognise this privilege for the Portuguese city. 


Several rulers who passed through Marvao disputed its ownership. But the truth is that, thanks to the castle and its magnificent fortifications, it was never conquered, although it was besieged several times.

In 1995, the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ammaia were discovered in the surrounding area. This huge city (about 3,000 hectares) was a very prosperous city in the 1st century BC thanks to the production of wine and oil. Today you can visit it.

Marvão is an extremely clean city. It is practically impossible to find a single piece of paper on the ground. In addition to the civic-mindedness of its inhabitants, it has a really efficient municipal cleaning service. It is a joy.

The Serra de São Mamede Natural Park may go unnoticed by UNESCO, but not by nature lovers. From Marvão, a 7-kilometre trail runs through part of this natural paradise, which at this time of year is covered in a beautiful blanket of reddish and ochre colours.

Posted in Europe, Portugal.