Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests

Southwest Iberian Mediterranean sclerophyllous and mixed forests (PA 1221) are found on the Atlantic coastal strip of southern Portugal and Spain, especially in the Guadiana, Tajo, and Guadalquivir River basins. The most common forest is of cork oaks, mixed with other genera such as Laurus, Arbutus, Erica, and Ilex. Holm oak and holly oak are also common. Scleroophyllous forests typically have evergreen leaves, which are thick and leathery and small to conserve water.

World Heritage Sites within this ecoregion include:

Monastery of Batalha World Heritage Site, Leiria District,Portugal (N39o39’33” W8o49’34”) was constructed at the end of the 14th century. It is considered a masterpiece of Gothic art. King John I built the structure in gratitude for a victory at the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 over the Castilians, in which King John obtained the throne and independence of Portugal. In the chapel are the tombs of the king and his wife, as well as his sons.

Complex of Belem (Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belem) World Heritage Site, Lisbon Municipality, Portugal, includes the Tower of Belem (Torre de Belem) and the Jeronimos Monastery (Hieronymites Monastery). Both commemorate Portuguese power in the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Tower of Belem (N38o41’30” W9o12’57”) was built on a small island from 1514 to 1520 for defense of the Tagus estuary and is considered an architectural jewel of its time. It commemorates the maritime discoveries of Portugal and is a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. The nearby Hieronymites Monastery (N38o41’50” W9o12’25”) was built to provide spiritual assistance to seafarers and to pray for the king.

The University of Coimbra World Heritage Site, Coimbra District, Portugal (N40o12’30’ W8o25’30”), includes the hilltop campus and botanical gardens of the university (Alta area), including the hilltop the Royal Palace of Alcazaba (Paco das Escolas or University Palace) and the Joanine Library with baroque décor and documents extending back to medieval times; as well as buildings along Sofia Street (N40o12’44” W8o25’47”) including the 12th century Cathedral of Santa Cruz. As the country’s oldest university (dating from 1290), Coimbra played a key role in the institutional and architectural development of universities throughout the Portuguese colonies. It has outstanding universal value as a university city hilltop location for the Portuguese world encompassing four continents in the colonial era.

Historic Center of Córdoba World Heritage Site, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, includes the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, the Judería, the Roman Bridge, the Torre de la Calahorra, and Molino de Albolafia (flour mills). Other notable sites are the Sinagoga, Caballerizas Reales (Royal Stables), and Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos (Fortress of Christian Monarchs). This area became urban in Roman times and has subsequently been occupied for thousands of years by Visigoth, Islam, Judaism, and Christian peoples. In the 8th century, 300 mosques, other palaces, and other public buildings were built in the city, and Cordoba was the main urban and cultural focus of the western world.

  • Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (N37o52’45” W4o46’45”), or the Great Mosque, is one of the world’s greatest Islamic buildings and the most important monument in the western Islamic world. Construction began in 786 and it was expanded to its current size in 991. Unique features are double arches in the roof, a ribbed vault with intertwined arches, and 856 columns, some recycled from Roman ruins, to hold up the arches. The arches have a distinctive terracotta and white-striped pattern. An intricate mihrab, or prayer niche, faces Mecca. With the conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the mosque was converted into a church. The church is known as the Capilla Mayor, and is a Gothic chapel built completely inside of the mosque in the 15th A Renaissance cathedral was built inside the mosque in the 16th and 17th centuries. Entrance to the Mosque-Cathedral is through the Patio of the Oranges, which has orange trees and fountains.
  • Judería (Jewish Quarter) is to the west and north of the Great Mosque. The narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed walls are typical of Andalusia. However, there are also the Courtyard Houses of Córdoba, which are distinctive in being communal and built around interior courtyards. This design is believed to be of Roman origin. The Andalusian touch is the hanging flower gardens that adorn the walls of the courtyards, with a fountain in the middle and a well to catch rainwater. Some patios date to the 10th The annual Courtyards Festival in May is a World Heritage Event.
  • Puente Romano (Roman bridge) features 16 arches and its appearance was enhanced by an 8th century Moorish reconstruction. It was featured in the Game of Thrones television series. Today it is a pedestrian-only bridge.
  • Museum Torre de la Calahorra (N37o52’32” W4o46’36”) is in a tower built to protect the Roman bridge and guard the entrance to the city that is noted during the Islamic Period. In 1369, additions were made to make the tower a more effective defensive structure. The museum features exhibits on life in Córdoba during the 10th century when Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived there.
  • Molino de Albolafia includes a water wheel which has been on the city logo since the 13th They are first believed to be built by Romans but are also known to have carried water to the Emir’s palaces in the Islamic period. They were taken out of operation during the Christian reconquest.
  • Sinagoga dates to 1315 and was believed to be a family synagogue.
  • Caballerizas Reales date to 1567.
  • Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos is the palace where Ferdinand and Isabella met Columbus and dates to the 13th and 14th

Cathedral, Alcázar, and Archivo de Indies in Seville World Heritage Site (N37o23’0” W5o59’30”) commemorates three adjacent buildings in Seville, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. Together, they are an exceptional testimony to the civilization of Islamic and Christian Andalusia. The sites epitomize the Spanish golden age, with vestiges of Islamic culture, Christian ecclesiastical power, royal sovereignty, and trading power.

  • Real Alcázar and Gardens of Sevilla, begun in the 10th century as the palace of the Moslem governor, was reconstructed on the same site by Moorish workers working for the Christian King, Peter the Cruel of Castile, in the 1360s. It is currently used as the Spanish royal family residence when in Seville and is the oldest royal palace in Europe still being used. The palatial buildings and extensive garden display cultural treasures from the Renaissance to Neoclassical periods. It is directly associated with the discovery of the New World and its colonization, for within the Alcazar is Cuarto del Almirante, or Admiral’s Hall, headquarters of the House of Trade with the Americas, where plans for history’s greatest expeditions were made, including Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. The Italian Renaissance gardens extend south from the Alcazar. Episodes of the Game of Thrones TV series were filmed at the Alcazar.
  • Jewish Quarter (Santa Cruz district) occupies the city adjacent to the Alcazar. A wall was constructed to separate Jews from the rest of the city following the Reconquest. After 1391, most Jews left after the reconquest persecuted the population of non-Christians.
  • Catedral de Sevilla (Cathedral of St. Mary of the See) is the largest Gothic cathedral (seat of the bishop) in the world and one of the largest churches in the world. It was constructed from 1184 to 1198 as a mosque. Following the reconquest in 1248, the mosque was used as a Cathedral. The Gothic Cathedral was constructed between 1434 and 1517. In the 1500s, Renaissance-period works were added, and in the 1600s Baroque phases were added. Inside the cathedral are several tombs, including that of Christopher Columbus. Giralda Tower on the east wall is the former minaret of the mosque and is now used as the bell tower of the cathedral. It dates to 1195 and is considered a masterpiece of Islamic architecture. The top of the tower can be reached by a walkway of 34 ramps and a final flight of stairs.
  • The General Archive of the Indies dates to 1598 and contains valuable historic documents on the colonization of the Americas. The building is Spanish Renaissance architecture and is between the Cathedral and Alcazar.

The Cultural Landscape of Sintra, Lisbon District, Portugal, is described as “an extraordinary and unique complex of parks, gardens, palaces, country houses, monasteries and castles, which create an architecture that harmonizes with the exotic and overgrown vegetation, creating micro-landscapes of exotic and luxuriant beauty…This syncretism between nature and ancient monuments, villas and quintas [estates] with monasteries and chalets influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.” ( ). The following properties are included in the World Heritage site:

  • The Convent of the Capuchos (Arrabalde convent) (N38o47’3” W9o26’17”) was founded in 1374, destroyed in a 1755 earthquake, rebuilt, and abandoned in 1834.
  • The Chalet and Garden of the Countess of Edla (N38o47’6” W9o23’57”) was built as a retreat in the 19th century for King Fernando II and his future wife, the Countess of Edla.
  • The Park and Palace of Montserrate (N38o47’40” W9o25’15”) was built in the 19th century and is considered one of the most beautiful architectural and landscape Romantic properties in Portugal. The Farmyard of Monserrate served the palace of Montserrate and today is managed to reflect the cultural heritage of agriculture in the region.
  • The Moorish Castle (N38o47’33” W9o23’21”) was built in the 8th and 9th
  • The Park and Palace of Pena (N38o47’15” W9o23’25”) are the greatest expression of European Romanticism in Portugal, built by King Ferdinand II in the 19th It is one of the seven wonders of Portugal. The gardens contain 500 tree species. The Pena Farm and Stables were used for carriage rides and contain a hillside planted with tea.
  • The National Palace of Sintra (N38o47’51” W9o23’26”) is in the town center. A grandiose and magnificent palace of the kings of Portugal, it is the best preserved medieval royal residence in Portugal. It was built as a Moorish fort in the 11th century, conquered by Christians in 1147, and improved by various kings from 1281 to the 16th The silhouette has remained the same since the 16th century. The palace retains geometric tiles and arched windows of Moorish era. Distinctive cone-shaped chimneys are visible in the kitchen area. One of the most important features of the national palace is facing with tiles, the finest example on the Iberian Peninsula. Management of the state-owned property is by Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua, S.A., a non-profit corporation.
  • Other buildings in the World Heritage site are the Palace of Seteais (late 18th /early 19th century), the Regaleira estate (late 17th century), the Town Hall (early 20th century), and 4 churches in Sintra.

International Biosphere Reserve in the ecoregion:

Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, Cádiz Province, Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, is an International Biosphere Reserve with limestone caverns, high peaks, and rare plants and animals including the endemic Spanish fir and Egyptian vultures. Cork oak and holm oak groves are present. Rainfall in the park is noted as the highest in Spain.  White villages within the park include:

  • Quesos El Bosqueño (N36o45’ E5o31’), an artisan cheese-making factory in the village of El Bosque (the forest), which makes traditional cheeses from goat and sheep milk.
  • Zahara de la Sierra (N36o50’ W5o24’), a high elevation town with a view of a reservoir and a castle built in the 13th century by the Moors.

Other sites in the ecoregion of note include:

Coimbra District, Portugal

Conimbriga Museum and Archaeological Park (N40o5’57” W8o29’37”), Condeixa-a-Nova, Portugal, preserves the remains of a large Roman settlement, which was constructed by the Romans from their arrival in 139 BC until barbarian invasions in 468. It is considered the best-preserved Roman ruin in Portugal.  The walled settlement was served by an aqueduct, baths, and Roman road, which can still be viewed. The Repuxos House (Fountain House) contains a garden with original irrigation system and 500 water jets which are still operational.

Pousada de Coindeixa Coimbra, Condeixa-a-Nova (N40o7’2” W8o29’4”), is a restored building used as a hotel on the site of the 16th century former palace of the Almadas, a noble family.

Evora District, Portugal

Cromeleque dos Almendres (N38o33’27” W8o3’40”) is a double circle of 95 stones erected about 5000 B.C. This makes it 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the oldest megalithic monument in Europe. The monument is associated with the development of Neolithic communities in Europe. The stones’ flattened side faces the sun, and some have geometric carvings. The stone circles are a short walk from a parking area on a hilltop forested with cork oak trees. The hilltop is the drainage dividing line of the three largest rivers in Portugal, the Tagus, Sado, and Guadiana. The site is accessible from the village of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe via signed dirt roads. On the drive to the parking area is another marked side trail to the Menhir dos Almendres (N38o33’50” W8o2’54”), a single granite monolith rising 4 meters. A line from the menhir to the stone circle marks sunrise in the summer solstice.

Lisbon District, Portugal

Palace of the Arches (Vila Gale Collection Palacio dos Arcos, Paco de Arcos, Oeiras Municipality, Lisbon District, Portugal), is a hotel built in the 15th century; the king watched ships leaving for India from the balcony. The current hotel is dedicated to Portuguese poetry, with verses from famous poetry on the walls of public areas. Public gardens are adjacent to the palace (N38o41’48” W9o17’21”).

Lisbon Municipality sites include:

  • National Azuelejo (Tile) Museum (N38o43’28” W9o6’50”) displays hundreds of ornate patterns in the rooms of the former Convent of Madre Deus, 1509. The decorative tiles date from the 15th century to the present. Also, ceramics and porcelain are also displayed.
  • The Alfama District (N38o43’ W9o8’) of Lisbon is a former Muslim district with a maze of narrow streets and home of Fado music.
  • Restoration Square (Restauradores) (N38o43’ W9o8’30”) and Baixa District (downtown) including the Santa Justa elevator. The name celebrates the restoration of the independence of Portugal in 1640, after 60 years of having a shared king with Spain.
  • Parque Eduardo VII (N38o43’50” W9o9’17”) provides a panoramic view of Lisbon and the Tejo (Tagos) River from a hill above the city. It was named for an English king who visited in 1902.

Parque Natural Sintra-Cascais is 14,583 ha and includes megalithic monuments, the Guincho-Oitavas dunes, Guincho Beach, Ribafria estate, Ramalhao Palace, the Sanctuary of Peninha, and the Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site. It is the westernmost point on the European continent. The Cultural Landscape of Sintra World Heritage Site (see) is within this park. Also, the coastal overlook, rocky coastline, and wildflowers at Cape Raso, Guincho Beach, Cascais Municipality (N38o43’ W9o29’), are part of the park. A view to the north is of Cape Roca, the westernmost point in the European continent.

National Palace and Gardens of Queluz (N38o45’0” W9o15’30”), Sintra Municipality, Lisbon District, Portugal, is a royal residence located west of Lisbon. It is a landmark of both Portuguese architecture and landscape design from the 18th and 19th centuries and includes baroque, rococo, and neoclassical influence. It is sometimes compared with Versailles. The structure was built as a summer palace in 1747 and transferred to state management in 1908. The Queluz Gardens surround the palace on three sides and include a botanical garden, a channel for boat or gondola rides, a maze garden, hanging garden, and Malta garden. Management of the state-owned property is by Parques de Sintra-Monte da Lua, S.A., a non-profit corporation.

Santarém District, Portugal

Campanhia das Lezirias is a state-run farm located at the confluence of the Tagus and Sado Rivers. It is currently 20,000 ha in area and is managed for agriculture (rice), cattle, breeding of Lusitano horses (the oldest saddle horse breed in the world), and forestry.  The farm includes the Estate Monte de Braco de Prata (restaurant, horse sports activity center, and stud farm (N38o52’47” W8o51’45”), the cork oak forest (N38o49’ W8o51’), and the Catapereiro Winery (N38o48’47” W8o52’56”).

Cádiz Province, Andalusia, Spain

Arcos de la Frontera (N36o44’52” W5o48’24”) is dramatically positioned on a rocky cliff above the Guadalete River. There is a tangled labyrinth of cobblestone streets with a castle at the high point. The castle has shields of the Dukes of Arcos on the outside. An overlook and hotel are adjacent to the castle. The town was at the frontier in the 13th century battles with the Moors.

Seville Province, Andalusia, Spain

Hotel Inglaterra, Sevilla, is an 1857 hotel is located on Plaza Nueva (N37o23’20” W5o59’45”), opposite the city hall. It features a rooftop bar with a panoramic view of the city including the cathedral. In the 19th century, monarchs visiting Seville stayed at the Iglaterra Inn. Behind the city hall was a prison that held Cervantes. During his time in jail in 1598 he conceived the idea of Don Quixote, the most influential work of Spanish literature.

Plaza de España, Sevilla (N37o22’35” W5o59’10”), was built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 as a semi-circular brick building in the Renaissance style. It was the location for the filming of movies such as Star Wars and Lawrence of Arabia. Today it offers a park-like setting along the Guadalquivir River.