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Ancient Alentejo: The best place in Europe to explore ancient sites

Portugal’s Alentejo has one of the largest collections of prehistoric sites, including stone rings, dolmens and menhirs in Europe. The region is set between rivers, and the plains of the Alentejo were a perfect home for hunter-gatherers.  A flat and fertile region set between the Tejo, Sado and Guadiana rivers- agriculture flourishes here. The Cromeleque dos Almendres, outside of Évora, is one of its most famous — predating Stonehenge by about 3,000 years, it was only rediscovered in the 1960s.

Other notable sites include the Anta Grande do Zambujeiro (Portugal’s largest dolmen), the Menhir da Meada at Castelo de Vide (the tallest menhir on the Iberian Peninsula, at more than 10 feet) and many megaliths around Portalegre and Monsaraz. There are Megalithic tours offered in both  Evora and Monsaraz.

The Alentejo’s megaliths are older than most other Western Europe sites, and they demonstrate the start of human society. As in the development of agriculture, religious and spiritual beliefs and communal living.  Around Évora there are more than a dozen megalithic sites, including hundreds of menhirs, dolmens and ruined settlements.

The Cromeleque dos Almendres is the largest known megalithic monument on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the oldest in the world. The construction of the Cromeleque dates back to the 6th millennium BCE. The Cromeleque, set in a circular pattern, is marked by 95 granite monoliths, clustered in small groups. And, not far away, is a menhir from the middle of the Neolithic period, built as humans were transitioning from hunter-gatherers to herders and farmers. Based on the movements of the Sun and Moon.

Cromeleque dos Almendres has about 100 stones. Nearby, the menhir in Monte dos Almendres is one of the many menhirs in the Evora region. It is shaped like an elongated egg and has a crosier (staff) engraved at the top, a testament to the importance of nature, including the domestication of animals.

Of interest in the Alentejo, several prehistoric dolmens were later incorporated into chapels - as in the Anta de Pavia (near Mora) and at the chapel of São Brissos in Montemor-o-Novo.

Rocha da Mina is an ancient sacred site in Alandroal. Set at the top of a sacred hill,  surrounded by the cork forest and the River Lucefecit. A natural temple with an altar, the  deity worshipped here was Endovelico. The remote site is of incredible beauty. The site was active into the time of the Romans.

The Escoural Cave offers well preserved Paleolithic-era rock-art. It may have been a burial site. Prehistoric rock-art dates back millennia and depicts hunting scenes. The earliest signs of human occupation date back to 50,000 years BCE. Neanderthal hunter-gatherers used the cave as a shelter for the hunt. By the Neolithic period the cave was used as a funerary site, with a small settlement nearby.

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