Alentejo with an anthropologist
Alentejo is a region of southern Portugal, the largest in the country in extension. It is a large plateau with some hills. It has quarries with economic value such as marble and granite, which are used to buid our beautiful streets, cities and monuments. The cork oak tree and holm oak tree forests, both native trees, called “montado”, are where cattle have been grazing since ancient times. Their biodiversity is one of the widest in the world, with a big diversity of fauna and flora. However, the threat of extinction of various species is a challenge to environmental sustainability.
The region maintains its original four seasons, spring and summer, autumn and winter. Both spring and autumn are mild seasons. In spring the fields are sprinkled with flowers of all colors. In autumn the landscape change into warm colors. Summer and winter are extreme seasons, with very hot and dry summers and winters that can be quite cold and rainy.
The main rivers of the region are the Tagus, the Guadiana and the Sado. Fun fact: the three hydrographic basins meet in a place called Divôr near the city of Évora, in the center of the region (Divôr: from the latin Divorum, so called by the Romans and meaning the place where the Gods meet to party and dance: information obtained from: “Francisco Bilou, 2010, A Refoundation of the Silver Water Aqueduct in Évora ”).
Most of the eldery people lived in a rural world, in a traditional and ancient society. In the twentieth century the mechanization of agriculture transformed this reality. Since then society has had a more urban life, where the new professions reflect this dynamic and its modern side. Despite these changes, the region still has a low population density.
Some of the advantages of the its late entry into modernity is the richness of traditions that animate the people of the Alentejo region that have survived to this day. Recently classified as World Heritage by UNESCO are Cante Alentejano (2014), Arte Chocalheira (2015) and Bonecos de Estremoz (2017). Other handicrafts, genuine fruits of imagination and skill of our people, are still to be found in shops, fairs and markets.
Hospitality is one of the noblest values that characterize the people of Alentejo. The art of welcoming guests allows for the building of living relationships and the sharing of knowledge, such as gastronomy, where local products such as bread, oil and wine are always present, the use of cooking utensils and the house athmosphere.
People from Alentejo are heirs of crossings of European and Mediterranean cultures, from which they created their own culture, which is reflected in language, with unique words and a distinctive accent. We have a mix of tradition and modernity that promises enriching moments to all visitors.
Cork is the most valued raw material in Alentejo. This region is the biggest producer in the world. Nowadays the diversity of items made out of cork has increased greatly with new technological potential that confers greater flexibility to the material. Traditionally, it has always been used and has had many applications in day to day life.
Some of the most emblematic products of this region are linked to gastronomy, as it became known as the granary of Portugal. The bread is always present on the table, as are olives, olive oil, cheese and wine. These products have arrived in Alentejo many centuries ago and continue to mark our regional identity. The black pork is another of the most important products of the region, and we eat everything (and we mean everything!) Unique delicacies are made using characteristic aromatic herbs such as laurel, coriander, parsley, pennyroyal, mint and others, which make the flavors delicious, healthy and unforgettable.
In the past, the potteries, had a huge production and the region, according to the geographer Orlando Ribeiro, came to be known as a civilization of clay. Nowadays the decorative poterries are the only ones that still continue this handicraft, with naive motifs and bright colors, varying from place to place. Alentejo blankets and Arraiolos rugs are also worth mentioning, as these are the most genuine handicrafts in the region and are still manufactured.
... and our history spans for centuries and centuries. The people who settled in Alentejo left their mark on the landscape, customs and traditions. They came to the region from far away, from northern and eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The whole Iberian Peninsula was the scene of cultural exchanges and mixtures of peoples from all over the ancient world. The monuments still present in each village, as well as in the language and culture of the people bare witness to these exchanges.
Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Arabs, all left marks of their passage, their inheritance, in our Alentejo. At the time of Portuguese conquest against the Moors, the region entered a new period of its history, but remained a multicultural and tolerant one, where the creative spirit gave rise to a very rich hybrid architecture, such as the Manueline style, originating in the city of Evora and later spreading throughout the kingdom. It is in Alentejo that even today, this mixture of different cultures has greater expression in Portugal.
Évora, in the heart of Alentejo, is a monumental city where, during the Discoveries, the kings of Portugal chose to live for long periods. It is in this city that at the end of the 15th century, Vasco da Gama was given the mission to reach India by sea. The neuralgic center of the region since its founding by the Celts, Évora reaches its glory in the 16th and 17th centuries, to witness, after the University's closure in 1757, a slow decline, until tourism, in the second half of the twentieth century, brought its historic center (UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1986) back to life, boosting the streets, culture, trade and the entire economy.
But what still remains a mystery to experts, as there is no evidence, is how and for what purpose megalithic monuments were built - with huge granite stones. The Cromlech of Almendres, near Évora, which dates back about 7000 years and the dolmens from that same period that are spread across the land. It is well known that these people practiced agriculture and pastoralism, but little is known about their social organization.