Campo Maior, Portugal

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Campo Maior
Flag of Campo Maior
Coat of arms of Campo Maior
Coat of arms
Coordinates: 39°00′N 7°03′W / 39.000°N 7.050°W / 39.000; -7.050Coordinates: 39°00′N 7°03′W / 39.000°N 7.050°W / 39.000; -7.050
Country  Portugal
Region Alentejo
Subregion Alto Alentejo
Intermunic. comm. Alto Alentejo
District Portalegre
Parishes 3
 • President João Burrica (PS)
 • Total 247.20 km2 (95.44 sq mi)
Population (2011)
 • Total 8,456
 • Density 34/km2 (89/sq mi)
Time zone WET/WEST (UTC+0/+1)

Campo Maior (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈkɐ̃pu mɐˈjɔɾ]), is a municipality in the Portalegre District, Alentejo Region, Portugal. The population in 2011 was 8,456,[1] in an area of 247.20 square kilometres (95.44 sq mi).[2] It is bordered by Spain on the North and East, by Elvas Municipality on the Southeast, and by Arronches Municipality on the West.


Administratively, the municipality is divided into 3 civil parishes (freguesias):[3]

  • Nossa Senhora da Expectação
  • Nossa Senhora da Graça dos Degolados
  • São João Baptista[4]


Population of Campo Maior Municipality (1801–2011)
1801 1849 1900 1930 1960 1981 1991 2001 2011
4975 4416 6050 8234 9887 8549 8535 8387 8456


Campo Maior was certainly a Roman settling - the ancient Muro Dam is close by - which went under control of the Moors for half a millennium. In 1219, it was conquered by Christian knights, the Pérez de Badajoz family, who then gave the village, which belonged to the municipality of Badajoz, to the Church of Santa Maria do Castelo (Saint Mary of the Castle).

On May 31, 1255, King Alfonso X of Castile promotes the village to town status.

In 1260, Bishop Friar Pedro Pérez, the Town Lord, grants the first charter (foral) to the inhabitants of Campo Maior. He also introduced the town's first coat-of-arms, showing Our Lady and a lamb, with a legend "Sigillum Capituli Pacensis".

On May 31, 1297, the Treaty of Alcanizes was signed by King Ferdinand IV of Castile and King Denis of Portugal, whereby Campo Maior, together with Olivença and Ouguela, were transferred to Portugal.

Under Portuguese sovereignty, Campo Maior went through an additional two Town Lords - Branca, sister of King Denis, in 1301, and Afonso Sanches, natural son of King Denis, in 1312 - before returning to King Denis's direct rule in 1318.

The Castle east of the village was rebuilt by King Denis in 1310. In the 17th and 18th Centuries, other fortifications were built and Campo Maior became an important garrison town.

As a reflex of the influence of Castile in Campo Maior, the population and the garrison sided with Castile following the 1383–1385 Crisis. King John I of Portugal and Constable Nuno Álvares Pereira led their armies personally and had the town besieged for six weeks and finally occupied, in the end of 1388.

King John II (1481–1495) granted a new coat-of-arms to Campo Maior: a white shield, with the Arms of Portugal on one side, and John the Baptist, patron saint of the town, on the other side.

In 1512, King Manuel I renews the charter (foral) of Campo Maior.

From the late 15th Century, many of those persecuted by the Inquisition in Castile took refuge in Portugal. Part of them settled in Campo Maior, which saw its population increase substantially. As a consequence, in the 16th Century, the town's New Christian community was so numerous that it provided most of the accused of Judaism which were included in the Portuguese Inquisition's Auto-de-fé that took place in nearby Évora.

The war with Castile from 1640 brought big changes. The need to re-fortify the town, which had grown markedly outside the medieval perimeter during the previous three centuries, and the urgency to build a new fortified perimeter to defend the inhabitants of the "new town" from the incursions of the Castilian armies, were the reasons that forced the Kings of Portugal to invest large amounts of money, and to send contingents of military engineers, specialized workers and even more non-specialized workers. The garrison had then a substantial size. It is estimated that, in late 17th Century, one out of four inhabitants of Campo Maior was military. Campo Maior was also the main home of the mercenary Dutch troops that fought in Alentejo. The town was at that time the second most important garrison in Alentejo, after Elvas.

In 1712, during the Spanish War of Succession, the Castle of Campo Maior was besieged by the Spanish Army, commanded by the French Alexandre Maître, Marquis de Bay. For 36 days, he launched tons of projectiles on the town and managed to breach one of the bastions. However, upon crossing the breach, the Spanish Army suffered heavy casualties and retreated in defeat.

On September 16, 1732, at 3 am, a storm hits the Armory, located on the Castle's main tower, which contained 6000 arrobas of gunpowder and 5000 pieces of ammunition. A violent explosion ensued, followed by a fire, taking down two thirds of the inhabitants.

King John V determines the quick reconstruction of the Castle. The town will slowly rise from the ruins and will eventually regain its main role both in times of war and in times of peace, as a trading post with Spain.

In the 18th Century, the Church of Misericórdia (Mercy) and the Matriz Church (Matrix, seat of the Parish) are built and the Church of Saint John is started. The town, which until then had been formed by a single freguesia (parish), is divided in 1766 into the present two - Our Lady of Expectação and Saint John the Baptist.

The early 19th century were agitated in Campo Maior: a siege in 1801 by the Spanish during the War of the Oranges, and a local rebellion in 1808 against the French who were then engaged in the Peninsular War.

The uprising of Campo Maior against the Napoleonic invasion was successful due to the help from the Badajoz army, which then stayed in the town for three years.

In 1811, a new Napoleonic invasion besieges the town for one month until capitulation. But that gave time for the Anglo-Portuguese Army, under the command of British General Beresford, to arrive and disband the French. The town then earned the title of Vila Leal e Valorosa (Loyal and Valorous Town), now inscribed in its coat-of-arms.

The Liberal Wars (1828–1834) were also fought in Campo Maior.

In 1836, the neighbouring municipality of Ouguela was extinct and annexed to Campo Maior, increasing its number of freguesias (parishes) from three to four.

In 1865, an epidemic of cholera killed 150 people in two and a half months.

In 1867, an attempt to extinguish the municipality of Campo Maior and integrate it in the municipality of Elvas provokes a popular uprising, with the population staging a strike on December 13. The attempt was dropped and the municipality survived.

In 1926, a fourth rural freguesia (parish) is added to the municipality: Our Lady of the Graça dos Degolados (Grace of the Beheaded).

In 1941, the municipality assumes its current division in three freguesias (parishes), with the annexation of the freguesia of Ouguela by the freguesia of Saint John the Baptist, due to the former's rapid population decline.


The main industry is coffee roasting and coffee packaging. Campo Maior is headquarters to Delta Cafés, the market leader in Portugal.

Other economic activities include agriculture and livestock rising. Campo Maior is a production center of olives and ham, made from Iberian pig (also known as porco alentejano).


  1. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estatística
  2. ^ Direção-Geral do Território
  3. ^ Diário da República. "Law nr. 11-A/2013, page 552 32" (pdf) (in Portuguese). Retrieved 20 July 2014. 
  4. ^ Includes the old Parish of Ouguela.

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