Sao Cucufate Roman Villa | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Sao Cucufate Roman Villa

Vila de Frades, Alentejo, Portugal

Sarah Roller

14 May 2021
Image Credit: John Copland / Shutterstock

About Sao Cucufate Roman Villa

Sao Cucufate Roman Villa, also known as Villa Aulica, in Portugal is an archaeological site which dates back as far as the first century AD.

History of Sao Cucufate

The first villa complex on the site was constructed in the 1st century, but most of what can be seen there today dates to the 3rd or 4th century, when a huge second villa complex was built but never completed. By the 5th century, it had been completely abandoned.

Around the 9th century, a convent was established on the ruins of the Roman villa, which existed until the 12th century and was part of the parish of Sao Cucufate, hence the origins of the name the villa is now known by.

Originally Augustine canons lived in the convent, followed by Benedictine monks. The monastic community abandoned the building, save for a singular hermit, by the 17th century. The soil in the area was particularly fertile and the surrounding grounds are thought to have sustained the local community for slightly longer than this.

In the 1970s, the site was put under the protection of the DGEMN – Direcção Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais (General Directorate of Buildings and National Monuments) – who helped keep it in relatively good condition and undertook some restoration work. Excavations were carried out around this period, and finds include a bronze statue, jewellery and ceramics.

A lack of heating system in the house suggested to archaeologists that the villa was only occupied during fruitful times i.e. spring, summer and early autumn, in order to produce food and help with the harvest.

Sao Cucufate today

The ruins of the Sao Cucufate Roman Villa are quite impressive and distinctive, even rising up to a second storey. Visitors can also see the remains of the hot and cold baths situated within the villa complex. Look out for the remarkable 16th/17th century frescoes. The remaining structures on display today are a mixture of Roman and Medieval: allow an hour or two to wander round fully.

Local guides are available to hire if you want to learn more, and the staff are extremely helpful and friendly. There’s limited signage on site.

Getting to Sao Cucufate

The villa is in central Portugal, about 10 minutes west of the town of Vidigueira: take the N258. There’s parking on site. There isn’t a bus however, so if you don’t have your own transport take a taxi or walk – it’s about an hour each way from town.

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