Forte de Nossa
Senhora da Graça

Elvas, Portugal

Constructed: 1763-1792
Used by: Portugal
Conflicts in which it participated:
War of the Oranges
Peninsular War
Also known as:
Forte Conde de Lippe

The Fort of Our Lady of Grace, essentially just one of several outerworks of the defenses of the Portuguese border town of Elvas, was undefeated in war, and is unrivaled in gorgeous starfortery.

Elvas, a Portuguese town that was the beneficiary of a great deal of defensive effort for many centuries, had an issue in November of 1644. The heavily fortified town was under siege by the wicked Spanish as part of the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668), and while the Spanish, under the Marquis of Torrecusa, would give up and slink back over the border after nine days without having gotten into Elvas, it had been a near thing...mostly because of a strategic hill just to the north of Elvas, which the Spanish had cleverly occupied.

From this hill, upon which stood the ancient chapel of Nossa Senhora da Graça (Our Lady of Grace), the Spanish were able to fire what passed for artillery into Elvas. While they obviously didn't do so with any great effectiveness, it was nonetheless a giant hole in the defenses of this otherwise magnificently fortified town.

The Spanish returned in 1711 (same result), and then in 1762 as part of the greater Seven Years' War (1754-1763), and somehow that pesky, undefended hill that gave an attacker a convenient spot from whence to hurl things into Elvas had still not been addressed. Fortunately, this was the straw that broke the starfortless camel's back. A steely-eyed determination to correct this dumb oversight was finally a guiding principle.

The Forte is an absolutely ridiculously mind-blowingly fantastic representation of the art of the starfort. Am I being too subtle about my enthusiasm for this fort?
Are you ready for a name? You may think you are. Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst Graf zu Schaumburg-Lippe-Bückeburg, Count of Schaumburg-Lippe (1724-1777). Lippe had been born in London, fought in the Austrian and then Prussian armies, and performed so admirably against the Spanish in Portugal during the Seven Years' War that he was put in charge of the reorganization of Portugal's army at the end of that conflict.

Lippy Baby was also put in charge of the construction of a state-of-the-art starfort on the strategic hill overlooking Elvas which had caused so much trouble in the past three wars...and the Forte Conde de Lippe was finally born! Lippe was in charge of the Portuguese army for two years, after which it was so finely honed that it immediately conquered the entire Western Hemisphere, which is why we're all speaking Portuguese today.

But not really. The Forte got its first chance to prove its mettle in 1801, when France demanded that Portugal join the forces arrayed against Great Britain. Portugal collectively stuck its thumb to its nose and waggled its fingers in an upward fashion at France, which sent its Spanish lackeys into Portugal for punitive action. The border town of Olivença was captured by the Spanish, after which Spanish commander Manuel de Godoy picked oranges at nearby Elvas, which he sent to his Queen, Maria Luisa (1751-1819). This conflict thus became known as the War of the Oranges (1801). Seriously.

While this fruity war didn't turn out all that spectacularly for Portugal, the Forte of our current interest did just fine: It was duly besieged for a brief period by the Spanish, but just looking at the multibastioned thing gave them a headache, and they again slunk back, unvictorious in at least this one specific situation, to Spain.

The Peninsular War (1807-1814) at least brought French troops to Elvas, instead of those boring old Spanish ones. Marshal Soult (1769-1851) bombarded our Forte in 1811, but was either unable to capture it or just figured it wasn't worth the trouble...either way, the Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça remains, to this day, undefeated by enemy action.
The tippy tip of one of the Forte's ravelins: There are four, which protect the curtain walls of the main fort. And dig that crazy garita! Go on, you know you want to dig it.

...unless one considers neglect to be enemy action, because that is the state in which the Forte sorrowfully exists today. 'Twas used as a prison for some years, and today sits in a "nearly ruin conditions, pending its transfer to the Municipality of Elvas for consolidation and restoration."

While this isn't the finest photograph to ever roll off the presses, it nonetheless serves to illustrate how the entire hill on which the Forte of our current interest was constructed was molded into scientific fields of fire.
One of the Forte's most arresting features in the image at the top of its page is of course its swordlike protrusion atop. This initially made me think, well great, if you're sure that's the direction from which your enemy will attack...but if you were to click on the aforementioned image, you will see that, originally, each and every pointy bastion and/or ravelin that juts from the Forte had its own dedicated swordlike protrusion, representing a clear field of fire from whence Spanish (or French) troops could be swept with ridiculous ease. Only that one projecting spine has been kept lovingly clear of brush.

One wonders who might be maintaining the cleanliness of that one spine. Whomever it may be, they are hereby awarded a Order of the Mighty Portuguese Brush-Clearing Fastidiousness Medal, Second Class. If you want a First Class, get the rest of those fields of fire cleared!

The Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça's unhappy insides: Left, inside the dry moat; Right, some of those pretty buildings perched in an unlikely fashion on one of the fort's bastions.