BEJA is the main town of the Baixa Alentejo (Lower Alentejo), though its population only numbers around 30,000. Its inland position means that it’s frequently the hottest place in Portugal, something to bear in mind if you plan a visit during the summer months. Once past the modern suburbs, you’ll find a laidback old quarter with a historic convent and an impressive castle dating from the thirteenth century. You can take in the sights in the compact historic centre in half a day, though it’s not a bad night’s stopover in any case, with plenty of good cafés and restaurants.
Commanding a strategic position in the centre of the plains, it has long been an important and prosperous city. Founded by Julius Caesar in 48 BC, it was named Pax Julia, in honour of the peace accord signed here between Rome and the Lusitanians, but later became Pax Augusta and then just Pax – this gradually became corrupted to Paca, Baca, Baju, and finally Beja. You can still experience the Roman influence to the north, at the atmospheric Ruinas Romanas de São Cucufate, where the history of three separate Roman villas is laid bare in a series of extensive excavations and reconstructions.