CAPITAL OF THE IBERIAN MEGALITHIC
outskirts of ╔vora, and especially the land immediately to the West
of the city, make up the most diverse and monumental megalithic
landscape in the Iberian Peninsula.
amount and size of the megalithic monuments in ╔vora is related,
first and foremost, to the area's privileged location in terms of
natural travelling routes: in fact, on the outskirts of the city we
can find the only place at which the hydrographical basins of the
three largest rivers in the South – the Tagus, the Sado and the
Guadiana – meet.
structural role, for primitive road networks, of waterlines and
hills – the lines dividing the hydrographical basins – was certainly
a determining factor in the exceptional nature of ╔vora’s megalithic
Megalithism apparently emerged as a phenomenon rooted in the
cultural practices of the last hunter-gatherer communities,
reflecting profound ideological changes, originating in the eastern
Mediterranean, along with a new agro-pastoral economy. The specific
character of the area around ╔vora seems, in this context, to be a
consequence of the dynamics of the megalithic communities which, in
the Tagus and Sado estuaries, just as in Brittany, two of the most
important centres of the European Atlantic seaboard.
monuments/sites proposed in this itinerary are not isolated. Just in
the ╔vora district, there are currently more than ten known
megalithic sites, almost a hundred single menhirs (or associated in
small groups), around eight hundred dolmens and some four hundred
and fifty “megalithic” villages. There are also some rare examples
of related monuments, the tholoi, and, in the area of the
Alqueva Dam, an extraordinary rock engraving sanctuary was
discovered, which is now underwater. There are also around a hundred
rocks with indentations, mysterious monuments that are almost
certainly related to megalithism; in effect, the indentations often
appear on megalithic monuments.
YEARS BEFORE STONEHENGE: THE ALMENDRES MEGALITHIC SITE
Almendres site is the largest megalithic monument in the Iberian
Peninsula and one of the oldest of Humanity's monuments.
was, it would seem, built around 7000 years ago, at the dawn of the
Neolithic, the time when the first communities of shepherds and
farmers were emerging in Europe.
Almendres site, whose original layout was, very probably, a
horseshoe shape, open towards the east, seems to have been added to
and altered: the monument’s current shape, which is relatively
complex, is partially the result of these old interventions and,
also to more or less recent amputations and disturbances. The
monument currently comprises around a hundred monoliths, some of
which are decorated.
choice of the places where the monuments were positioned surely took
into account the physical structure of the landscape, especially the
river network as well as the most notable astronomical phenomena,
relating to the annual movement of the Sun, Moon, on the horizon.
outskirts of ╔vora, in a restricted area to the West of the city,
there are two other sites of the same type – Portela de Mogos and
Vale Maria do Meio. This group makes up the largest concentration of
menhirs in the Iberian Peninsula, demonstrating the special role
that this region played in the origins of European megalithism.
SOLITARY STONES: THE MONTE DOS ALMENDRES MENHIR
with most of the European megalithic regions, in this area there are
a large number of isolated menhirs, some of which appear to be
spatially oriented with the sites and generally contemporaneous to
Monte dos Almendres menhir is an a long oval-shaped example, which
is a characteristic of the menhirs in the ╔vora area and has a
crosier engraved in shallow relief on the upper part of the side
which now faces west.
shepherd’s crosier is the most frequent subject on menhirs in the
Alentejo region (and is also often apparent on menhirs in Brittany);
it is a subject that clearly evokes the Neolithic economy in which
herding had a central role; it also reflects the foundations of the
Neolithic ideology, in which the domination of nature, the
domestication of animals and plants, was on of the dominating
of the menhirs were decorated with motifs that generally reinforce
the respective anthropomorphic character: we are, in fact facing the
first statues, three-dimensional representations on a large-scale,
of the human body.
location of the monument is clearly related to the Almendres site,
as it corresponds to an elemental astronomic direction: the menhir
as seen from the site indicates the positions in which the sun
rises, on the longest day of the year, the day of the Summer
MEGALITHIC CATHEDRAL: THE LARGE ZAMBUJEIRO DOLMEN
Dolmens are collective funereal monuments that correspond,
generally, to the second phase of regional megalithism; they were
built for the most part at the end of the Neolithic, less than six
thousand years ago.
funeral megalithic monuments that came before dolmens were formally
similar although smaller in size and without a corridor and
corresponded to individual burials.
Large Zambujeiro Dolmen is, probably, the tallest in the world, with
large granite supports that reach up to 6 metres in height. The
stone structure of the monument is made up of a chamber defined by
six supports (plus a closing stone over the entrance to the chamber)
is a long corridor. The group was covered with monolithic covers;
the covering slab of the chamber currently lies over the mamoa,
on the western side.
monument also preserves a large part of the mamoa, the small
mound of stones that covered and originally hid, on the outside, the
stone structure. On the edge of the mamoa a containment ring
was built with fixed supports.
outside of the support that flanks the entry, to the South side,
several sinuous parallel lines can be seen that are arranged
longitudinally and which are one of the relatively frequent themes
on menhirs in Alentejo and Algarve.
monument’s currently hazardous state is the result of an old
intervention that, due to having removed part of the mamoa
drastically reduced the stability of the group of rocks; it was
therefore necessary to build a provisional covering and stabilise
some of the more sensitive points of the structure, while a more
definitive recuperation of the monument is not possible.
from the dolmen itself, next to the monument there are two large
enigmatic granite blocks; one of them, which is parallelepiped, at
the entrance to the corridor, and another close by, with an exposed
side dotted with dimples.
PRE-HISTORIC ORIGINS OF THE CITY OF ╔VORA: THE VILLAGE O ALTO DE S.
de S. Bento is the large natural viewpoint over the city, to the
East, and over one of the best preserved landscapes on the outskirts
of ╔vora, to the West, where in fact the main monolithic monuments
in the region are located.
of hillock since the 19th century evidence of a
pre-historic village has been collected, whose oldest phase is from
the beginning of the region’s Neolithic period (about 7000 years
ago) and whose occupation carried on at least until the Calcolithic
(about 5000 years ago).
a true “megalithic” village, in that it was occupied throughout the
whole period in which menhirs and dolmens were built in the region,
and also because there used to be large granite outcrops here, which
have since been reduced due to quarrying.
fact in central Alentejo that are numerous dwelling places from that
period, in which the most notable characteristic is the presence of
large granite rocks that obviously evoke the true megalithic
case of Alto de S. Bento we can truly talk about the earliest
origins of the city of ╔vora. In fact, the village expanded,
especially at the end of the Neolithic, to the surrounding areas,
particularly into the village of S. Caetano, to the Southwest, and
Quinta do Chantre, to the East; if we consider the various known
centres, we are, without doubt, looking at the largest pre-historic
village known in the area, and one of the largest in the region.