Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications
The Castle of Elvas dates back to the reign of King Sancho II and stands on a Muslim structure, of which two walls still remain. The city was taken from the Moors in 1166 and 1220, but it was not until 1226 that the castle was definitively conquered, immediately rebuilt, and completed in 1228.
Some innovations were introduced to the roofing and other supporting elements, such as turrets and machicolations during the reign of King Dinis. In the following centuries, kings D. João II and D. Manuel I adapted the castle to a new bulwarked defence system in Renaissance style, whilst the whole group of buildings took on a more residential character, under supervision of the city’s alcaides.
As a result of the great military reform of the mid-17th century, the Castle of Elvas became one of the most remarkable fortifications in Europe, owing to the need for defence during the border wars (1641-1668).The works are attributed to the engineer Father Cosmander and other masters, who were summoned to the Portuguese court by kings D. João IV and D. Afonso VI. Outstanding among the works carried out during this campaign are the complex systems of walls, ravelins, ditches, as well as two secondary fortresses, those of Santa Luzia and Graça.
Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries Elvas’ walled fortifications underwent constant modernization works that turned it into an enormous entrenched camp.
Despite the great transformations undergone throughout history, the Castle of Elvas has retained its medieval military structure and is recognised as one of the most important examples of both overlapping functions and the historic evolution of strategic and military thinking, clearly demonstrating the implementation of the best practical and theoretical knowledge.
The application of the Fortifications of Elvas for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List aimed to enhance the predominantly military and existing heritage, which clearly bears witness to its position as a border town.
Elvas gradually evolved into a remarkable fortified city with a predominantly defensive function owing to its border position and military vocation, which meant that it regularly bore the brunt of military aggression and violence, particularly in times of armed conflict.
A historical analysis of the various defensive military systems present in all the built structures and in the design of the city itself throws light on the need to enhance this systemic and erudite process of architectural, urban and military basis rather than to just focus on a particular period.
Despite its defensive military character, Elvas maintains a strong link to agricultural activities. Its urban layout, resulting from military imperatives, retains strong rural features. Elvas also acts as a centre of diffusion, both in peacetime and in wartime, which led it to become the capital of the region, with a consequent administrative function, which can be seen in numerous administrative as well as civil buildings of high architectural interest, and in a vast and coherent set of supporting buildings.