The garrison border Town of Elvas and its fortifications: proposal for inclusion on World Heritage List

Even for international specialists, the first visit to Elvas (Portugal) is almost always a surprise. How is it possible to find, in the 21st century – after the autophagic urban growth of the 19th and 20th centuries – an entrenched field of fortifications so old, so large, so well preserved, so authentic, with such an important intangible cultural heritage (representing schools of fortification; already considered as a masterpiece in its time – Fort of Graça; with such a long military history, etc.) but…one not included in the World Heritage List?

In fact, Elvas is the main fortress of the oldest border in Europe, the “Key to the Kingdom”, and the “mother” of the largest ensemble of modern fortifications ever built anywhere, by any country, in the world; incidentally, this is why Portuguese is today the most widely spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere. From the 15th century on, and because of the Discoveries, Portugal constructed thousands of transitional and bulwarked (bastioned) fortifications on all the continents, some of them already classified as World Heritage, like Mazagan, El Jadida (Morocco, 16th century); Fort of São Sebastião, Mozambique Island (Mozambique, 16th century); Gale (Sri Lanka, 16th century). They are so many and so dispersed all over the world that it has not yet been possible to count them precisely. Just to mention Brazil, there are 100 fortifications (or significant vestiges) still in existence out of the 174 built by Portugal.

But the role of Portugal during the Discoveries and the Renaissance, in other words, in the Modern Age, contributed to a new and enlightened vision of the World and Humanity (in every sense: geographical, cultural, etc.), this would not have been possible without the defence of its independence, face to face, side by side, with the powerful country/empire in Europe at the time: Spain. In this respect, Elvas played an important role ever since the independence of Portugal (1143) and the establishment of its definitive border at the Treaty of Alcañices (1297). That is why Elvas was the “Key to the Kingdom” throughout the centuries, exhibiting, today, Medieval fortifications (Muslim and Christian), transitional fortified elements, the strategic Amoreira Aqueduct (7.504 m in length), the modern fortifications built in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and so many military buildings in the Historic Centre that make Elvas a unique garrison border town. If the soldiers of dozens of regiments came back, it would be amazing, because they would not notice any change in the fortifications. Of what other important fortified towns in the world can the same be said?

For all these reasons, it is a duty to preserve this “outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates significant stages in human history”, just to mention one of UNESCO’s criteria that can be attributed to this cultural heritage. The dossier is complete and is the work (and has benefited from the advice) of important specialists from all continents.

  • Report (Other)
  • Domingos Bucho
  • 2010
  • Elvas
  • English
  • 850 p., il., color.
  • Download

Contribution

Updated at 23/08/2018 by the tutor Roberto Tonera.



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