Ferragial d'El-Rei / Estação arqueológica de Alter do Chão

Villa - Roman Period e Early Middle Ages (142)
The archaeological station of Ferragial d'El Rei / Alter do Chão, also known as Medusa's House, corresponds to vestiges of the pars urban of a Roman villa, located on a small platform, with good visibility over the landscape (263m altitude), flanked by two water lines, in the vicinity of the Roman city of Abelterium (Alter do Chão). The various archaeological works carried out from the 1950s to the beginning of the 21st century allowed the identification of structural and artefactual traces of an imposing Roman villa, with several stages of construction and occupation, chronologically framed between the 1st-century and the 7th century AD (Roman period/Late Antiquity). The residential area (pars urbana) of this villa is organized around a rectangular shaped peristilum of (352m2), with mosaic pavement possessing geometric motifs, walls decorated with paintings, a central tank and a garden. The northeast wing compartments, which are better preserved, had rectangular/square blueprints (areas between 10 - 19m2) and pavement with geometric mosaics. The triclinium (large living room, used for banquets) was located at the southeast end of the peristilum, presenting a rectangular blueprint (53m2 of internal area), with the floor covered by a mosaic of great artistic quality. This mosaic represents the penultimate scene of chapter XII of Virgil's Aeneid, having Aeneas as central figure, holding a shield with the face of Medusa. Behind Aeneas are three Trojan soldiers armed with spears and shield, and on the opposite side, three Rutuli armed combatants. At the base are also representations of the river Tiber Genius and the god Vulcano. In the northeast wing of the domus, and as a result of this space's restructuring, a representation room can be identified, squared in shape (with 77m2) and horseshoe apse, with walls and pavement profusely ornamented. The thermal bathhouse was located to the south west, where preserved traces of its various compartments are found, which underwent alterations and remodelling, increasing its size and complexity over time. This thermal building could have a private use, especially in its first stages of construction, gaining a public dimension with the subsequent enlargement works. Several construction projects that occurred in the villa of Alter do Chão between the 1st and 4th centuries AD, display the economic growth and a greater architectural and artistic monumentality, evidence of the high social status of their owners. During the 6th and 7th centuries, one of the frigidarium tanks of the thermal bathhouse was reused as a necropolis, with three rectangular shaped burial graves found inside, constructed with reused materials and covered by shale slabs. The burials were individual, without votive spoil, and only with clothing elements and personal bronze adornment (earrings, rings, buckles). The simplicity of these funerary structures, their close relationship with water and proximity to residential areas may indicate the possible Christianization of these individuals, which requires a more in-depth analysis.


Ferragial d'El-Rei has an interpretive center on site, although booking is required. Tickets can be purchased on site.

Visit conditions

By booking



    How to get there? Best practices

    Best practices

    Good practices when visiting archaeological sites

    To visit an archaeological site is to connect with our origins, to understand our path and evolution as a species integrated in the environment, and to respect and safeguard our heritage so that future generations can also visit and enjoy it.

    Walking the paths and enjoying the structures and archaeological pieces that survived over time, fosters the understanding of what is different, but also of what is common among different populations: basically, what identifies us as Homo Sapiens.

    More than just vestiges and ruins of the past, archaeological sites showcase our capacity for creative thought, adaptation, interconnection, comprehension and resilience. Without these traits we would not have been successful as cultural beings participating in an ongoing evolutionary process. These sites also allow to consider choices made in the past thus contributing for decisions in the present to be made with greater awareness and knowledge.

    Archaeological sites are unique and irreplaceable. These sites are fragile resources vulnerable to changes driven by human development. The information they keep, if destroyed, can never be recovered again.

    As such, the Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage (DGPC) invites all visitors to enjoy the beauty and authenticity of these sites, while helping to preserve them for future generations by adopting the following set of good practices:

    • Respect all signs; 
    • Do not try to access fenced areas; 
    • Do not climb, sit or walk on archaeological structures and remains; 
    • Respect areas where archaeological excavations are being carried out, not disturbing them; 
    • Do not collect materials or sediments;
    • Do not write or make graffiti on archaeological structures; 
    • Put the garbage in appropriate containers. If none exist, take the garbage with you until you find a suitable container; 
    • Leave the archaeological site as you found it; 
    • Do not drive bicycles or motor vehicles over archaeological sites; 
    • Respect and protect the plants and animals that live in the areas surrounding archaeological sites;
    • Report signs of vandalism or destruction to DGPC or Regional Directorates of Culture (DRC);
    • Share the visiting experience and the archaeological sites, as a way of raising awareness to their preservation and making them better known;
    • Do not buy archaeological materials and report to public security authorities, DGPC or DRC, if you suspect that archaeological materials may be for sale.

    Further information:

    AIA / ATTA (2013) – Guide to best practices for archaeological tourism. 

    Raposo, J. (2016) – Código de conduta para uma visita responsável a sítios arqueológicos. In Sítios arqueológicos portugueses revisitados: 500 arqueossítios ou conjuntos em condições de fruição pública responsável. Al-madan, 2ª série, p. 20 – 77. 

    DGPC contacts

    Phone: +351213614200 | Email: informacaoarqueologica@dgpc.pt


    1 Voted for this site