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Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications

Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications

The site, extensively fortified from the 17th to 19th centuries, represents the largest bulwarked dry-ditch system in the world. Within its walls, the town contains barracks and other military buildings as well as churches and monasteries. While Elvas contains remains dating back to the 10th century ad, its fortification began when Portugal regained independence in 1640. The fortifications designed by Dutch Jesuit padre Cosmander represent the best surviving example of the Dutch school of fortifications anywhere. The site also contains the Amoreira aqueduct, built to enable the stronghold to withstand lengthy sieges.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Ville de garnison frontalière d’Elvas et ses fortifications

Le site, fortifié de manière extensive entre le XVIIe et le XIXe siècle, représente le plus grand système défensif de remparts à douves sèches du monde. À l’intérieur de ses murs, la ville comprend de grandes casernes et d'autres bâtiments militaires, ainsi que des églises et des monastères. Alors qu'Elvas conserve des vestiges remontant au Xe siècle, ses fortifications remontent au moment de la restauration de l'indépendance du Portugal en 1640. Les fortifications, conçues par le père jésuite Cosmander, représentent le meilleur exemple conservé au monde de fortifications de l'école hollandaise. Le site comprend aussi l'aqueduc d'Amoreira, construit pour permettre de résister à un long siège.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Guarnición fronteriza y fortificaciones de la ciudad de Elvas

El sitio contiene fortificaciones de los siglos XVII a XIX. Se trata del mayor sistema de murallas y fosos secos del mundo. Dentro del recinto amurallado hay barracones y otros edificios militares así como iglesias y monasterios. Aunque Elvas tiene vestigios arqueológicos del siglo X, la construcción de sus fortificaciones comenzó con la independencia de Portugal, en 1640. Diseñadas por el jesuita holandés João Piscásio Cosmander, son el mejor ejemplo todavía existente de la escuela holandesa de fortificación en todo el mundo. El sitio incluye también el acueducto de Amoreira, construido para que la fortaleza soportara largos asedios sin carecer de agua.

source: UNESCO/CPE
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0


source: NFUAJ

Garnizoensgrensstad en vestingwerken van Elvas

De garnizoensgrensstad van Elvas werd van de 17e tot de 19e eeuw zwaar versterkt en is het grootste verdedigingswerk met droge grachten ter wereld. Binnen de stadsmuren staan barakken en andere militaire gebouwen, kerken en kloosters. Er zijn in Elvas overblijfselen vanaf de 10e eeuw na Christus aanwezig. De versterking begon echter pas in 1640 toen Portugal zijn onafhankelijkheid van Spanje had teruggewonnen. De vestingwerken zijn ontworpen door de Nederlandse Jezuïtische pater Cosmander. Het is het best bewaarde voorbeeld ter wereld van de Nederlandse school van vestingwerken. Door het Amoreira aquaduct kon het bolwerk langdurige belegeringen weerstaan.

Source: unesco.nl

Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Guarding the key border crossing between Portugal’s capital Lisbon and Spain’s capital Madrid, in an undulating, riverine landscape, the Garrison Town of Elvas was fortified extensively from the 17th to the 19th centuries to become the largest bulwarked dry ditch system in the world, with outlying forts built on surrounding hills to accommodate the changing needs of defensive warfare.

The town was supplied with water by the 7km-long Amoreira Aqueduct, built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and a key feature enabling the stronghold to withstand a lengthy siege. Within the walls, the town contains extensive barracks and other military buildings, as well as churches and monasteries, some adapted to military functions. The property includes seven components: the Historic Centre, the Amoreira Aqueduct, the Fort of Santa Luzia, and the covered way linking it to the Historic Centre, the Fort of Graça, and the Fortlets of São Mamede, São Pedro and São Domingos.

The historic centre with its castle, remnant walls and civil and religious buildings demonstrate the development of Elvas as three successive walled towns from the 10th to the 14th century and its subsequent incorporation into the major fortification works of the Portuguese War of the Restoration period (1641-68), when a wide range of military buildings were built for its role as a garrison town.

The bulwarked fortifications of the town and the outlying Fort of Santa Luzia and Graça and fortlets of São Mamede, São Pedro and São Domingos reflect the evolution of the Dutch system of fortification into an outstanding dry-ditch defence system.

These surviving fortifications were begun in 1643 and comprise twelve forts inserted in an irregular polygon, roughly centred on the castle and making use of a landscape of hills. The bulwarks are battered, surrounded by a dry ditch and counterscarp and further protected by a number of ravelins. The fortifications were designed by the Dutch Jesuit Cosmander, based on the treaties of fortification engineer Samuel Marolois, whose work together with that of Simon Stevin and Adam Fritach launched the Dutch school of fortification worldwide. Cosmander applied the geometric theory of Marolois to the irregular topography of Elvas, to produce a defensive system considered a masterpiece of its time.

In the 18th century the Fort of Graça was constructed in response to the development of longer-range artillery, as well as four fortlets to the west.

As the remains of an enormous war fortress, Elvas is exceptional as a military landscape with visual and functional relationships between its fortifications, representing developments in military architecture and technology drawn from Dutch, Italian, French and English military theory and practice. Elvas is an outstanding demonstration of Portugal’s desire for land and autonomy, and the universal aspirations of European nation States in the 16th-17th centuries.

Criterion (iv) : Elvas is an outstanding example of a garrison town and its dry-ditched bulwarked defence system, which developed in response to disruptions in the balance of power within 17th century Europe. Elvas can thus be seen as representing the universal aspirations of European nation States in the 16th-17th centuries for autonomy and land.


All elements necessary to express the Outstanding Universal Value of the property are included within the property boundary. A number of buildings are unoccupied and are closed up against squatters and vandalism, and are subject to encroachment by vegetation. In particular the Fort of Graça, being relatively isolated and unused is vulnerable to vandalism. Views of the fortifications from a distance and between each other are vulnerable to new development and the visual integrity of the property needs to be protected by a slightly enlarged buffer zone with adequate controls.


The large collection of original plans and drawings, military reports, photographs and descriptions testify to the authenticity of the property. Overall, the form and materials of the fortifications are still in virtually the same state as when they were rendered obsolete in the 19th century. The military and religious buildings have largely retained their function or another appropriate use until the present. The authenticity of the setting is impacted by large communication masts and is vulnerable to new development.

Protection and management requirements

The property will be declared a National Monument subject to the National Law No. 107/2001 on Cultural Heritage by the end of 2012. The buffer zone will be declared a Special Protection Area subject to controls in the Municipal Master Plan by the end of 2012. This whole area including the property will then be managed by the Municipality with input from the Ministry of Culture through IGESPAR.

There is a need to slightly enlarge the buffer zone to protect the views between the Fortlet of Sāo Domingo and the Fort of Graça.

The Integrated Management Plan for the Fortifications of Elvas (IMPFE) aims to bring all stakeholders together to ensure the integrity of the property and enhance its potential use. It aims to control the buffer zone area as well as the area of the property, focusing on institutional cooperation, involvement of private stakeholders, educational, scientific and cultural initiatives and dissemination of information. The Management Plan will be implemented by the Office for the Fortifications of Elvas within the city of Elvas, once this is appointed by the Mayor.

In order to underpin the Plan there is a need to establish a full inventory of the features and structures as a basis for management and monitoring. There is also a need for the preparation of guidance on appropriate design for new and infill buildings.