South of Alcácer, SANTIAGO DO CACÉM is a pleasant little provincial town overlooked by a castle, with the fascinating Roman ruins of Miróbriga on its outskirts. The modern town centres on its market, with what’s left of the old town (not much) spreading up one of the hills to the Castelo, Moorish in origin but later rebuilt by the Knights Templar. It now does rather odd duty as a cemetery for the neighbouring church, but you can climb up to the battlements, a steep fifteen-minute walk up from town. Back down in the centre, make your way to the Museu Municipal, facing the municipal gardens off Avenida Álvares Pereira. Housed in one of Salazar’s more notorious prisons, one of the spartan cells has been preserved while two others have been converted into a “typical country bedroom” and “a rich bourgeois bedroom”.
The archeological section in Santiago’s museum should whet your appetite for a visit to the Ruinas Romanas de Miróbriga, a short drive from town or around twenty minutes’ walk – follow the Lisbon road, Rua de Lisboa (N120), and it is signed right by a windmill on the hill. The site, which lies isolated amid Arcadian green hills, was first inhabited during the Iron Age, but the Roman city here dates from the first century AD. For 200 years Miróbriga thrived on trade, a planned town set around its forum and temple, with recreational zones and residential areas – a “new town” of its era. By the fourth century AD it was in decline, and was then lost to history until the sixteenth century, and only first excavated in the nineteenth century.
The ruins are extensive, scattered over the hills below the small interpretation centre. At the highest point a Temple of Jupiter has been partly reconstructed, overlooking the forum with a row of shops built into its supporting wall. A house below here retains some second-century wall paintings, while a paved street descends to a huge bath complex whose underground central heating system is still intact. Alongside sits a beautifully preserved Roman bridge from the first century AD.Read More