Situated on an 850-meter high granite plateau, Marvão offers beautiful views over the Serra de São Mamede, Serra de Estrela and River Tagus basin.
Its strategic position, towering above the frontier with Spain, made it the perfect border fortress for the Portuguese kings. Its fortifications were gradually extended for over a thousand years, making Marvão into one of Europe’s most impressive medieval castle-villages. Marvão has generated significant tourist interest in recent years, and was included in the # 1 New York Times bestselling book “1000 Places to see Before you Die”.
The village has long inspired artists and writers, from Nobel prize-winner José Saramago to leading travel writers from around the world. In the 1950s, author Huldine Beamish wrote of Marvão ‘There is an atmosphere about the district (of Marvão) that is very ancient. Picking your way along the steep stony pathways, you would not be at all surprised to meet a Phoenician trader or Roman Soldier’. It is, in short, a village that fires the imagination!
The mountain and valleys of Marvão have been inhabited continuously since prehistoric times, and have sustained a more-or-less stable population for five millennia. Early neolithic settlers and the Ibero-Celtic tribes, were defeated by the Romans in the second century BC. Marvão’s predecessor Ammaia, situated in the modern-day parish of São Salvador da Aramenha, would grow to become an important Roman urban settlement with several thousand inhabitants: a key town alongside Scallabis (Santarem) and Olissipo (Lisbon) in the Roman province of Lusitania (with its capital at Mérida). Recent excavations of Ammaia have provided a stunning glimpse into this period, and the museum at the site is a must-see when visiting Marvão.
In 711 the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula from North Africa. During the islamic period, a Moorish warlord, Ibn Marwan, built a castle on the rock above Ammaia in the late 9th century, and it is his name which survives today as ‘Marvão’.
By 1226, Marvão was firmly back in Portuguese hands, and the village was later extended during the reigns of the House of Burgundy, under the auspices of the Knights Hospitallers. Through centuries of Portuguese-Castilian rivalry, Marvão was repeatedly the scene of violent clashes, notably during the Spanish War of Succession, even into the 19th century during the Napoleonic invasions and the Portuguese civil war of 1834.
The medieval castle and the extensive village walls are the most significant architectural monuments in Marvão. Just outside the walls, the 14th century Convento de Nossa Senhora da Estrela includes a large a gothic church, and houses a statue of a miraculous madonna (‘the Portuguese Guadalupe’), together with interesting 17th century Portuguese azulejos (tiles).
Inside the village walls, the entire centre of the village is subject to heritage protection, and includes numerous Gothic churches, civic buildings (a law court and prison). together with evidence of the city’s historical role as garrison town and Knights Hospitaller stronghold (Hospitaller crosses – ‘Alisée’ or ‘Maltese’ crosses – can be seen throughout the village even today). The city’s museum is located in the former church of Santa Maria, and includes numerous exhibits from the village’s history: from Neolithic grave-artifacts (such as jewellery and idol plaques) and Roman archaeological finds to more recent ethnographic exhibits.
Footpaths and trails criss-cross the mountain around Marvão and the Serra de São Mamede, many dating back to Roman and medieval times.
We also offer our members city tours, excursions on horseback, vintage car tours and other themed tours.