Photographer's Note

It’s one of the oldest Portuguese towns southern of the Tagus river. It has been occupied since pre-historic times, existing on its vicinities about one and a half hundred megalithic monuments. The hill where this village stand probably was a pre-historic fortification, and in the surrounding area there have been found several pre-roman anthropomorphic graves carved on the stone itself.

This primitive town was romanized during the Roman period, and latter was occupied by Visigoths, Arabs, Mozarabs, Jews, and after the reconquista was christianized.

The name Monsaraz originates from the word Xarez or Xerez, which were the Iberian equivalents of the Arab words SARIS or SHARISH, the Arabic names of the Gum rockrose (Cistus ladanifer L.). A plant that still today prospers in poor, dry, acidic slate based soil that surrounds Monsaraz. The Iberian words Xarez/Xerez latter evolved to the Portuguese Xaraz and to the Castilian Jerez (the Spanish name for the Sherry wine). Therefore Monsaraz originated from the name Monte Xaraz (Mount Xaraz), a fortified hill surrounded by gun rockroses.

It’s natural position, the highest hill in the area and proximity to the deep Guadiana valley, made it a location of strategic importance.

In 1157 Geraldo Sem Pavor defeated the Moors conquering Monsaraz, the village fell again under moorish power following the defeat of the Portuguese king D. Afonso Heriques in Badajoz. This prized fortification was finally conquered by king D. Sancho II with the help of the Templars in 1232, after which the king gave the town the knights in order to thank them and establish a Templar garrison that would protect this border.

The Christian repopulation of Monsaraz ends only in reign of D. Afonso III when it gets it’s first Christian Alcaide, the knight Martim Anes, and first letter of foral. In 1263 it’s already an important fortress, being head of a municipality with large privileges. The local economy was fundamentally based on agriculture and livestock, existing some small industries of terra cotta and hammered copper.

In 1319 there is established at Monsaraz a branch of the Order of Christ in direct dependence of that of Castro Marim. During the same period, the reign of D. Dinis, starts the building of the gothic stile courthouse and of the castles sighting tower.

Nuno Álvares Pereira, in 1412, donates Monsaraz to his grandson, D. Fernando, becoming one of the most prized possessions of the House of Brangança.

The demographic crises created by the plague, forced the Duke of Bragança, in 1527, to carry out a small land reform in order to promote the settling of farmers in Monsaraz. The small property plots thus created can still today be seen in the area surrounding this village.

The economical and demographic development of the nearby village of Reguengos de Monsaraz, due to its rich vineyards and prosperous handcraft industries, made it the most important town in the Monsaraz municipally. And in 1840 the head of the municipality was transferred there.

source wikipedia

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