Castelo de Vide is one village in the Serra Sao Mamede region of Portugal you simply would not miss if you visited Alto Alentejo.
A very relaxed small town with many characterful places to sample Northern Alentejo specialities. It is popular but never too busy. On market day it changes from relaxing to vibrant. It is always a joy to stroll around the old part of town.
This picture shows the old part of the town which was once a typical Portuguese hill-top village with a Castle. To the right you see the church of Santa Maria da Devesa which is a vast in proportion to the size of the village it originally served so clearly this was at some point a very prosperous place.
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That prosperity is said to have been influenced by the commercial acumen of a significant Jewish community whose existence is traced to the 15th Century. Although they suffered an expulsion some remained as "New Christians".
Several streets were reserved for the Jewish community so the town has a well preserved area called the Jewish Quarter (Judiaria) which contains the oldest Synagogue in Portugal and some say it is the oldest in Europe.
The Jewish Quarter is an interesting area to wander around with its cobbled paths and small white-washed houses with gothic doorways. The main route from the Castle through the Judiaria is Rua da Fontes which leads down to the fine 16th Century Renaissance fountain, Fonte da Vila made of marble and granite.
The castle's fortification encloses an area of houses which made up the original village. Later a town wall was built to encompass the town's expansion.
The castle was built by Dom Dinis and Dom Alfonso from 1280 to 1365. The castle resisted attack from the Spanish in 1704 but was later yielded to a threat by Lord Berwick. It is said that gunpowder dumped into the well exploded a year later and destroyed much of the castle. There is still an intact well next to the main castle building so it was probably rebuilt.
The castle tower is well worth the climb since it gives a clear view of the town and surrounding countryside with Marvao clearly visible in distance.
The town is declining in population like many regions of Portugal close to the border with Spain. There are not enough providers of employment to keep the younger generation in the area so the demographic make-up leans towards the older generation. This makes tourism a more important aspect of the economy and luckily the town is a lovely and relaxing place to visit.
Tourism is very low key because the Sao Mamede region is off the beaten track and yet it is a very attractive area that is a bit of a hidden gem for the discerning. This appeals to some northern Europeans from crowded developed countries who buy up some of the more remote properties for holiday homes or to move here for a more laid back existence.
As well as being a town it is also an administrative region call a Concelho (like a small county) of 265km2 with a year 2001 population of 3872 and that figure is a decrease of 6% over ten years. Source: portalegredigital.biz. You can see other population figures on Wikipedia's page.
The contribution of low-key tourism to the economy mostly comes from hotels and restaurants. One restauranter told us the competition was tough since he had counted 28 places to get a meal in the small town. Not so good for him but great for tourists.