In Olivenza: the Ajuda Bridge - The Seven Year Itch - CycleBlaze

April 14, 2024

In Olivenza: the Ajuda Bridge

Rachael and I spend our layover day in Olivenza in the usual way: she’ll take a walk and I’ll take a ride, and we agree to be back at the hotel in time for lunch.  She’s drawn out a route for herself based on something she found in Kormoot, toward a fishhook shaped bit of high ground south of town with a mirador at the high point, Serra de Alor.  She won’t make it to the mirador because she’ll be thwarted by some high water and have to turn back.  Still, almost 11 miles is nothing to sniff at, and she’ll return with enough photos to fill a nice slide show:

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I had several ideas for a ride for myself - there are several attractive possibilities from Olivenza, a place that really looks like it would work for an even longer stay.  I’m also interested in birds though so I consult eBird to see if there are any local hotspots close enough for a day ride.  There is one, at the Ajuda Bridge across the Guadiana on the road to Elvas.  That looks promising, but what seals the deal for me is seeing that there’s the modern bridge but there’s also what remains of the historical bridge.  It has a tortured history: 

  • The Portuguese began construction in 1510 and the bridge was first opened in 1521.
  • Many of its arches were damaged or destroyed by a flood in 1597.
  • It is believed that the bridge was rebuilt and fortified in 1612-14, at the same time that the Portuguese strengthened the fortifications at Olivenza.
  • It was partially destroyed by Spanish forces in 1657, and then rebuilt later in the same century.
  • Additional fortifications were added by the Portuguese in 1705, but the bridge was again partially demolished by Spanish artillery in 1709 during the war of the Spanish secession.

It remains partially demolished, but at least what remains has been preserved and declared a property of historical interest by both countries.

Sounds worth a look, regardless of whether I find much birdlife.  It’s an easy seven mile ride, gently downhill, so it doesn’t take much work.  Plenty of reasons to stop along the way though, and plenty of time to do it with such a short, lazy ride.

Leaving town through the Cavalario Gate, a colorful access route: the wooden drawbridge still intact, and closed to motor vehicles.
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It’s a striking entrance to town also because of the intact fortified walls on this side - fittingly, since they face Portugal. You never know when a commando raid might slip over and try to retake their town.
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They’d better come with some grappling hooks.
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Pretty quiet road this morning, but there’s a bit of company.
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A chapel in the field, with Elvas in the distance.
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Dropping to the Guadiana. Portugal begins at the middle of the river - or that’s at least one opinion on the matter.
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There’s not much left of the bridge on the Spanish side and no birds at all, but I enjoy walking out on its few remaining arches for a view across the gap. 

On the Spanish side of the Ajuda Bridge.
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Looking across the gap.
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A look downriver to the modern bridge.
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Keith AdamsIs the river in flood? Seems odd to see trees that submerged, if it isn't.
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2 weeks ago

The ride across the modern bridge is interesting too, but in different ways.  For one thing, it gives a side view of the destroyed bridge, something I couldn’t get from the bridge itself because it’s all so overgrown around its base.

The old bridge from the new.
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Much more has survived on the Portuguese side. The bridge was destroyed by Spanish artillery fire, so maybe the shells wouldn’t reach any further into the river than that.
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And, there’s some birdlife to study. There’s nothing down on the water other than a pair of mallards, but the air is filled with swallows.  There’s a large colony of them nesting under the bridge that I can only see at a distance from the shore, but I get enough of a look at them flying around to make a confident identification.  And, they’ve got company - some swifts are swooping around too, ones larger and heavier bodied than the common Common Swifts I’ve been routinely seeing.

#200: Western house-martin, two of a hundred or so constantly in motion except by their nests, beneath the surface of the bridge. Of a dozen shots at them this was the best I could come up with.
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Keith AdamsPhotos of swifts and swallows are both really tough to get, at least for me.
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2 weeks ago
#201: Alpine swift. Not much of a look, but they’re easy to distinguish from common swifts by their significantly larger size.
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The martins have taken up house beneath the bridge.
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And the other side of the bridge is well worth an exploration too.  There’s considerably more of it left on this side, and it’s more accessible.

It’s nice that we can get a side view of this one.
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You have to pay attention. It’s a long drop.
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White wagtail went a courtin’ he did go, uh huh.
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Another view of the new bridge.
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And, of course, even though I was just here an hour ago it’s always different seeing the same road in the other direction.

Olivenza in the distance. I think the high ground behind it is Serra de Alor, the destination of Rachael’s hike.
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Just whipped out the camera in time. Sorry it’s so blurry.
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Gregory GarceauIt's only blurry because they're going so fast.
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1 month ago
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The Sun Amaro watchtower, close enough to Olivenza that it would make another nice walking destination for Rachael if we ever come back.
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Oh good! The drawbridge is still down.
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Returning to our hotel, I just left the bike in the office because the desk was unattended.  When we checked in yesterday they put the bikes in the front office, so I assumed they’d do so again when someone returned.  On our way out to lunch. Half hour later though I stopped in at the office to confirm it had been relocated.  The agent was in but occupied checking in a pair of guests.  I tried to butt in to ask about the bike, until Rachael observed that we knew this couple.  Suzanne and Janos!  We had no idea they were staying in Olivenza tonight, and hadn’t expected to see them until we reach Merida in two days.

But that’s a story in itself, so we’ll stop here for now.

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Gregory GarceauEleven miles really is nothing to sniff at. Go Rocky! I hiked about two miles a couple of days ago at my local state park and I was bushed. My feeble defense is that I had a sore ankle, and earlier I had to deal with some "Shetland Yaks."
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1 month ago
Rachael AndersonTo Gregory GarceauI made up for the short hike by doing 13.2 miles yesterday! FYI, you’re way tougher than I am! I hope you’re ankle is healing!
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1 month ago