Roman ruins of São Cucufate

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Ruins of the
Convent of São Cucufate (Ruínas do
Convento de São Cucufate
Archaeological Ruins of São Cucufate, Ruins of Santiago, Roman Villa of São Cucufate
Ruins (Ruinas)
Ruinas romanas de São Cucufate Pormenor do alçado principal da villa áulica.jpg
The Roman ruins of São Cucufate, with the principal elevation of the villa Áulica
Official name: Estação Arquelógica do Convento de São Cucufate
Named for: Cucuphas, martyred 4th century Spanish saint
Nickname: São
Country  Portugal
Region Alentejo
Sub-region Baixo Alentejo
District Beja
Municipality Vidigueira
Location Vila de Frades
 - elevation 250 m (820 ft)
 - coordinates 38°13′24.97″N 7°50′43.08″W / 38.2236028°N 7.8453000°W / 38.2236028; -7.8453000Coordinates: 38°13′24.97″N 7°50′43.08″W / 38.2236028°N 7.8453000°W / 38.2236028; -7.8453000
Length 115.12 m (378 ft), Southwest-Northeast
Width 169.93 m (558 ft), Northwest-Southeast
Architects unknown
Style Romanesque architecture
Materials Stone, Rock, Tile
Origin c. 360
Owner Portuguese Republic
For public Public
Visitation Closed (Mondays and on 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, Ascension Thursday and 25 December)
Easiest access Dirt road, off of EN258 (Vidigueira-Alvito), one kilometre from the civil parish seat of Vila de Frades
Management Instituto Gestão do Patrimonio Arquitectónico e Arqueológico
Operator Câmara Municipal de Vidigueira
Summer Tuesday (2:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.); Wednesday to Sunday (10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; 2:30 p.m.-6:30 p.m.)
Winter Tuesday (2:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.); Wednesday to Sunday (10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.; 2:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m.)
Listing Decree No. 36/383; DG 147, 28 June 1947
Wikimedia Commons: Roman Ruins of São Cucufate

The Roman ruins of São Cucufate (or alternately, the Roman ruins of the Villa of São Cucufate, Ruins of Santiago, Archaeological ruins of São Cucufate or Roman villa of São Áulica) is a Romanesque archaeological site, located on the ruins of a Roman-era agricultural farm in the civil parish of Vila de Frades, in the municipality of Vidigueira, in the southern Alentejo, Portugal. The convent, which dates back to Middle Ages, was dedicated to the martyred saint Cucuphas.


The thermae in the Roman ruins of the villa
The simple monastic altar in the convent, with painted murals

Around the end of the 4th millennium, Neolithic clans had already occupied the areas of southern Alentejo, selecting this location, only temporarily, to base their activities.[1]

The beginnings of the convent were laid down in the first century with the construction a small Roman villa.[2] It followed the model of architectural design in that period: built around the baths and peristyle.[3]

Between the 3rd and 4th centuries, construction occurred on what was later considered the second villa complex.[3] The massive complex that is visible today dates from the mid-4th century. The bath renovations were never completed. The villa was abandoned in the mid-5th century or possible earlier at the end of the 4th century (Marceo, p. 130).

Around the 9th century, the convent was established on the grounds/ruins of the Roman villa, and which persisted until the late 12th century.[3] In 1254, the ecclesiastical parish of São Cucufate was installed in the convent,[2] under the supervision of the monastery of São Vicente de Fora.[3] The Augustine canons that lived in the convent were later followed by Benedictine monks.[3]

Around the 17th century, the buildings were abandoned by the monastic community, although one hermit monk remained. With a few discontinuities, transformations and adaptations, the occupation of this space extended until the 18th century, primarily since the contiguous area could be utilized for its rich soils and abundance of water, to establish a small garden and residence.[1] It is certain that the chapel continued to serve the small local community until the 18th century.[3]


In 1975, the DGEMN - Direcção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais (General Directorate of Buildings and National Monuments) was involved in the process to consolidate the sites protection, reinforce the walls and pavements and repair the doors.[3] In the following year, the masonry was repaired and vaulted ceilings, while some doors were reinforced or added.[3]

The first excavations were begun under the orientation of Jorge Alarcão and R. Etienne in 1979, and which were renewed in 1981 and 1985.[3]

Investigations carried out by the IPPAR, at the São Cucufate site marked the beginning of the a new period of occupation.[1] On 1 June 1992, the site was transferred into the supervision and authority of the IPPAR (under legal dispatch 106F/92).[3] Under the IPPAR the site was reorganized, with a formal archaeological excavation established, the landscaping around the periphery and the establishment of tourist-oriented spaces construction of an interpretative centre completed in 2001 (by the architects Franscisco Caldeira Cabral and Nuno Bruno Soares). In order to expand education and preserved the historical continuity of the area, the IPPAR created the Núcleo Museológico in Vila de Frades, in the Casa do Arco and Casa do Almeida, two urban buildings ceded from the municipal council of Vidigueira, to serve as interpretative centres for the archaeological site.[1][4]


The farmhouse and ruins of the complex
The old terrace and gallery of the Roman villa

São Cucufate is situated off the IP2 in the direction of Vidigueira, and the EN258 to Vila de Frades, towards Monte de Guadalupe.[5]

Located in a slightly elevated location, the 1st century Roma era rural village dominated the space, with a southern view of the landscape until Beja.[1] It was likely the centre of a small community, with the property-owner's residence, spaces for agricultural storage, warehousing and equipment to work the land in the production of wine and olive oil.[1][2] During this period, and in successive years (until the late 4th century) the main house was progressively expanded, during two great projects.[1] The first, originating in the 2nd century, was initially a timid expansion of the residence (pars urbana).[1] The second, in the middle of the 4th century, marked a complete schism with the older architectural style, with a principal façade oriented around several interior courtyards open to the exterior, along a linear line.[1] It is these modifications that, today, remain conserved at the archaeological site. These latter changes also reflect a grandiose style and opulance from an epoch that came to an end.[1]

This late Roman villa exceeds all the typical dimensions of the Roman villae in Portugal (even as its true extent is undetermined).[3] There are still indications that the remainder of the rustic structures have not been completely unearthed, and which extend south from the main group.[3] Unlike other Roman civil architecture in Portugal, which is oriented primarily around peristyle design, this "villa" was developed vertically, with a main floor and vaulted galleries supported by the main facades framed/flanked by protruding bodies. The closest parallels are the Roman villas of Milreu, Pisões and Rabaçal.[3]

The Roman-era villa is a plan composed of a central rectangular body encircled by two almost-symmetrical, lateral rectangular buildings.[3] The exception is a semi-circular apse that completes the northern body's eastern wing. A few spaces only continue to show their walls, while a few still have their vaulted ceiling and terraces.[3]

The principal façade, oriented to the northwest, corresponds to the central body, where one can seem a long gallery preceded by a landing, which connects to remnants of a garden, by three steps.[3] To the rear, is a gallery that remains partially covered in a vaulted ceiling, with arcades for a grand tank, 35 by 10 metres.[3]

In the northern lateral body, are the remains of the rectangular chapel, with semi-circular apse, covered in wicker doors, broken by an arched lintel, with straight and rectangular openings.[3] The interior comprises two naves, separated by 3 arches over pillars, and covered by three transverse vaults. The juxtaposed apse is covered by a vaulted ceiling with a central shell motif at its apex.[3]

Since there is no heating system within the Roman villa, it has been suggested that the villa was only used during the harvest season.[6]

In the southern part of the villa, are the remains of a Roman temple (connected by a wall) and constituted of a rectangular cell-apse with two niches in the internal walls.[3]

Archaeological artifacts found in the excavations have included ceramics, glass, and metal implements, as well as copper and silver coins.[3] These discoveries have been outshined by the excavation of a bronze statue, representing an emperor in a toga, crowned with laurel, in addition to a small altar and marble tomb.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j IGESPAR, ed. (2011), Ruínas do Convento de São Cucufate (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: IGESPAR - Instituto Gestão do Patrimonio Arquitectónico e Arqueológico, retrieved 9 August 2011 
  2. ^ a b c Patrícia Sofia Rasgado Mareco (2007), p.135
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Mendonça, Isabel (1993). SIPA, ed. "Ruínas do Convento de São Cucufate/Ruínas de Santiago/Villa romana de São Cucufate" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: SIPA – Sistema de Informação para o Património Arquitectónico. 
  4. ^ Patrícia Sofia Rasgado Mareco (2007), p.137
  5. ^ Patrícia Sofia Rasgado Mareco (2007), p.130
  6. ^ Almeida (1971)
  • Thomas, Leão de São (1644), Benedictina Lusitana, I, Coimbra, Portugal 
  • Viana, Abel (1957), Notas Históricas, Arqueológicas e Etnográficas do Baixo Alentejo in Arquivo de Beja, 14 
  • Almeida, Fernando de (1971), Notícia sobre a "villa" romana de S. Cucufate, II, Coimbra, Portugal: Actas do II Congresso Nacional de Arqueologia 
  • Alarcão, J. (1980) [1979], "Escavações na villa luso-romana de S. Cucufate", Humanitas, pp. 31–32 
  • "A vila romana de S. Cucufate", Arqueologia (3), Porto, Portugal, June 1981 
  • Caetano, José Palma (1986), Vidigueira e o seu Concelho, Vidigueira, Portugal 
  • Alarcão, J. (1987), "Arquitectura romana", História da Arte, I, Lisbon, Portugal 
  • Espanca, Túlio (1992), Inventário Artístico de Portugal, Distrito de Beja, Lisbon, Portugal 
  • Mareco, Patrícia Sofia Rasgado (28 June 2007), Sítios Arquelógicos e Centros de Intepretação, em Portugal-Alentejo e Algarve: São Cucufate (PDF), Braga, Portugal: University of Minho, pp. 128–137