It is open space that appears to have no end. It is colours and smells that burst from the earth. It is the unmistakeable outline of rural architecture, present in the "montes” (farm complexes) of the great estates, in the oldest rows of houses in the cities, towns and villages or in the chapels, which paint with white the tops of hills. It is what is gleaned from the ways of being and doing, from the arts and skills that are conserved and renewed, from the tradition that is maintained and recreated, from the "choral chanting” that, with heart and soul, only the Alentjans know how to sing.
But the rural quality of the Alentejo of the 21st century is not exhausted in simply "country matters”. Through the not always positive changing fortunes of its history, this Region has preserved what today confers on it a value full of future promise: the smallness and environmental quality of its urban centres, the human scale, the silence, the peacefulness, the freedom, the freshness of the air we breathe. It is time. A way that is so peculiar of understanding time, making us feel under our skins that, finally, it is possible to live time in this dizzying world, allowing it to be exactly what it is: the most precious of our possessions.
Besides agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing, forestry and quarrying (for marble, schist and granite), the rural landscape is still marked by other activities connected to the earth’s resources which, in golden times, provide people with a living. This is the case with milling and with mining.
The milling of cereals using water mills built on the rivers and windmills set on the hilltops was, from the 1960s on, finally replaced by mechanical milling. The ruins remain, some of them beautiful, such as the mills of the Guadiana. But there were others that came to know other destinies: they were restored, some by private lovers of such art, some by local authorities, who transformed them into living museum pieces. Among the latter, the windmills of Castro Verde, of S. Miguel do Pinheiro (Mértola) and of Santiago do Cacém are always visitable; and, with prior booking, the water mill of Alferes, on the Vascão river, the southernmost Alentejan tributary of the Guadiana (information from the Mértola Tourist Office).
As far as the exploitation of the extensive seams of Alentejan pyrite is concerned, as well as the disused mine at S. Domingos (Mértola), those of Aljustrel and of Lousal deserve mention as interesting sites of Industrial Archaeology.
The Mines of Aljustrel, in use since Roman times, when the town was known as Vipasca, have had a troubled history, with successive phases of exploitation and closure. This saga has continued until present times, but the grave problems that it has caused should not deter you from taking a look at it from the perspective of its great historical and archaeological value. This is a major reason for visiting Aljustrel. Today, we can get to know about the treasures extracted from the mine in the Municipal Museum and we can take a Mining Excursion, marked by various points of interest such as the Compressor Centre, the White Stones, the Industrial Area of the Caverns, the Vipasca Whim (a kind of windlass), the Trastagana Chimney and the hillock where stands the chapel of Nossa Senhora do Castelo, emblem of the heritage of the town and with a spectacular view. Begin your visit to Aljustrel at the Tourist Office, where they will supply you with all of the support information and documentation you need.
The Lousal Mine, today the property of the Fundação Frederic Velge, has a completely different history. It began and ended its activity in the 20th century and is to be the object of a curious project to revitalise it, bringing together industrial archaeology and state-of-the-art technology. Appreciate the mining village, a good example of traditional rural architecture; visit the Museu da Central Eléctrica (electricity power-station museum), very complete and well organised, which is a true delight for those interested in the evolution of machinery connected to the production of energy; take a look at the beautiful pieces in the Centro de Artesanato (handicrafts centre); and, of course, embark on a virtual voyage, conceived and realised with the advanced technology which allows you access to the depths of the mine while you remain on the surface.