Situated on a hill (277 m), commanding a strategic position over the vast plains of the Baixo Alentejo, Beja was already an important place in the antiquity. Already inhabited in Celtic times, the town was later named Pax Julia by Julius Caesar in 48 BCE, when he made peace with the Lusitanians. He raised the town to capital of the southernmost province of Lusitania Santarém and Braga were the other capitals of the conventi). During the reign of emperor Augustus the thriving town became "Pax Augusta". It was already then a strategic road junction.
When the Visigoths took over the region, the town, then called Paca, became the seat of a bishopry. Saint Aprígio (died in 530) became the first Visigothic bishop of Paca. The town fell to the invading Omayyad army in 713.
Starting in 910 there were successive attempts of conquest and reconquest by the Christian kings. With the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba in 1031, Beja became a taifa, an independent Muslim-ruled principality. In 1144 the governor of Beja (Arabic: باجة الزيت), Sidray ibn Wazir, helped the rebellion of the Muridun (disciples) led by Abul-Qasim Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Quasi in the Algarve against power of Seville. In 1150 the town was captured by an army of the Almohads, who annexed it to their North-African empire. It was retaken in 1162 by Fernão Gonçalves, leading the army of the Portuguese king Afonso I. In 1175 Beja was recaptured again by the Almohads. It stayed under Muslim rule till 1234 when king Sancho II finally recaptured the town from the Moors.
All these wars depopulated the town and gradually reduced it into rubble. Only with D. Manuel I in 1521 Beja reached again the status of city. It was attacked and occupied by the Portuguese and the Spanish armies during the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1667).
Beja became again the head of a bishopry in 1770, more than a thousand years after the fall of the Visigothic city. In 1808 Napoleonic troops under General Junot sacked the city and massacred the inhabitants.
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