A land of light, the Alentejo has been a cultural crossroads, from the Romans, Moors, Phoenicians and Celts. Each of these ancient peoples came to the Alentejo – and each left a lasting imprint. But the story does not end there. With the rise of the Portuguese nation in the 12th century, the Alentejo grew into a country within a country – with its own arts, pottery, rugs, song, styles, cuisine, a unique way life and way of speaking. A land of poets, captains, builders, farmers, artist and ranchers the cultural past of the Alentejo is alive and vibrant- and yours to discover.
The Alentejo’s villages and towns are open-air galleries where history is carved in stone. One of the most fascinating remains in the world is the Cromlech of Alemendres, it is located not far from Évora. Megalithic monument dating back to 6,000 BCE. The large circles of stones were tied to the stars, and many have been a religious place of worship for prehistoric humans.
Across the hills and rolling plains many mysterious prehistoric sites speak to ancient rituals, gods, and the founding of human culture millennia ago. These stones are a mark of worship, from ancient altars, to places whose meaning has been lost in time, the prehistory of the Alentejo is extensive, and easily explored by bike, foot or car.
VIDEO: We Call it Alentejo
HISTORY & CULTURE ALL AROUND
In the Alentejo, you can find history everywhere. The Romans flourished here for centuries – building roads, vast farms, wineries, and villas. Today, you can explore their legacy. In the Serra de São Mamede, explore the lost Roman city of Ammaia, near Monforte at the Torre de Palma villa, you can see mosaics of muses and horses. Évora boasts a rare standing Roman temple, as well as Roman walls. Further south, the amazingly preserved São Cucufate villa offers a rare glimpse of the lifestyle of Romans in the Alentejo.
As the Roman Empire in the West fell, Moorish armies came from North Africa and ruled the Alentejo for 500 years, and they profoundly influenced the culture. Portuguese words for watermill, rice, olives, olive oil, wild boar, and even açorda (Alentejo’s wonderful bread stews) are a testimony to the Arab influence on agriculture and cuisine. The village of Mértola, perched on the edge of the Guadiana River, is where Moorish heritage is most striking, notably a former mosque (today a church), is the best-preserved mosque in Portugal.
As Portugal emerged as a nation after a legendary battle on Alentejo soil, Ourique, in 1139. The Reconquest would frame the character of Portugal and change the fate and culture of the Alentejo. This period saw see the construction of dozens of imposing castles and fortified villages, especially the fortress towns of Marvão, of Estremoz and Beja, the palace-fortress of Terena and the imposing castle of Monsaraz.
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Portuguese ships to every corner of the globe and brought the world back to the Alentejo. Churches, convents, imposing aqueducts and palaces worthy of kings and queens were built. A university was founded in Évora. Mannerist and Baroque art filled every corner and nook. And a unique style was created: the Manueline, found villages such as Alvito and Viana do Alentejo, cities like Elvas and Évora.
The following video will take you to Alentejo where you will meet local tour guide Melanie who will take you on a firsthand tour featuring Alentejo’s Culture and History.