Évora … and the Portuguese Stonehenge

It takes at least an hour to drive to the stunning Cromlech of the Almendres from Évora, not because it is so far from the Portuguese city – it is actually only fifteen kilometres away – but because the road to it is in abominable condition. Believed to be the largest collection of prehistoric menhirs in Europe, the Portuguese Stonehenge in the heart of the beautiful cork region of Alentejo is at least five thousand years old which, going by the state of it is probably when the road leading up to the cromlech was last tarmacked.

The enigmatic Cromlech of the Almendres

The enigmatic Cromlech of the Almendres

There are over ninety stones in the collection

There are over ninety stones in the collection

The large flat stone in the middle of the cromlech is erroneously believed to be a type of altar used to stage sacrifices. There is no evidence that the cromlech was used for such worship and the flat stone is more likely to have been a menhir that was knocked down by locals in later centuries who carved away at the piece and used the off-cuts for more domestic purposes

The large flat stone in the middle of the cromlech is erroneously believed to be a type of altar used to stage sacrifices. There is no evidence that the cromlech was used for such worship and the flat stone is more likely to have been a menhir that was knocked down by locals in later centuries who carved away at the piece and used the off-cuts for more domestic purposes

The angles, direction and arrangement of the menhirs suggest the cromlech was used as a type of prehistoric calendar. As a result people gather around the stones during the summer solstice every year in much the same way as druids do around Stonehenge. (Ahhh.... there's a little face in the stone on the right)

The angles, direction and arrangement of the menhirs suggest the cromlech was used as a type of prehistoric calendar. As a result people gather around the stones during the summer solstice every year in much the same way as druids do around Stonehenge.
(Ahhh…. there’s a little face in the stone on the right)

ebora-megalithica-cromlech-of-the-almendres-selection-side-looking-up-west

Although most of the stones are heavily worn by environmental erosion and human intervention (there is nothing stopping people touching the stones although every touch is harmful), some still exhibit neolithic carvings. Two crosiers (bishop crooks) can be seen on menhir "3". The symbolic meaning of these is unknown

Although most of the stones are heavily worn by environmental erosion and human intervention (there is nothing stopping people touching the stones although every touch is harmful), some still exhibit neolithic carvings. Two crosiers (bishop crooks) can be seen on menhir “3”. The symbolic meaning of these is unknown

Menhir "1" exhibits circular markings

Menhir “1” exhibits circular markings

The cromlech was discovered in the 1960s where few of the stones were still standing. Over the decades archaeological research has helped to restore most of the menhirs to their original position. Unfortunately, the restoration of a sole menhir a short distance away from the cromlech – but believed to be connected to it – wasn’t so successful.

The Menhir of the Almendres was discovered in 1966 by local teacher and archaeological enthusiast Henrique Leonor Pina

The Menhir of the Almendres was discovered in 1966 by local teacher and archaeological enthusiast Henrique Leonor Pina

Pina stood the four-and-a-half metre high menhir back up with the flat side facing west. The conservation of the neighbouring cromlech in later years has revealed that the flat side would have originally faced east

Pina stood the four-and-a-half metre high menhir back up with the flat side facing west. The conservation of the neighbouring cromlech in later years has revealed that the flat side would have originally faced east

That aside, this menhir also exhibits neolithic symbols, in this case long snake-like carvings (you may just be able to make out a whitish line in the middle of this shot). The roundish gouge near the bottom left of this picture was caused by a latter-day gun shot

That aside, this menhir also exhibits neolithic symbols, in this case long snake-like carvings (you may just be able to make out a whitish line in the middle of this shot). The roundish gouge near the bottom left of this picture was caused by a latter-day gun shot

Pina also discovered a rare neolithic tomb close to the village of Valverde, ten kilometres outside Évora city. As with the cromlech, the Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro is believed to have stood in its spot for over five millennia, but no thanks to Pina’s curiosity, it is unlikely to remain standing for another decade let alone another millennium. Pina had the cap stone removed from the tomb to examine the bodies and artefacts inside, but in doing so he rendered the remaining structure unstable requiring artificial reinforcement… although this too wasn’t particularly respectful to the megalithic monument.

The Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro and the not-so-great rusting canopy added in the 1970s in an attempt to protect the tomb from the weather (but not from the rust falling down onto it). The cap stone that Pina removed lies in front of it

The Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro and the not-so-great rusting canopy added in the 1970s in an attempt to protect the tomb from the weather (but not from the rust falling down onto it). The cap stone that Pina removed lies in front of it

Another crucial stone that was removed by Pina from the dolmen

Another crucial stone that was removed by Pina from the dolmen

The main body of the tomb showing signs of instability

The main body of the tomb showing signs of instability

ebora-megalithica-great-dolmen-of-zambujeiro-smaller-leaning-stone

Another shoddy attempt to support the remaining dolmen

Another shoddy attempt to support the remaining dolmen

Sadly, Pina didn't document or photograph what he found inside the dolmen, so vital information about how the bodies had been laid out inside and any evidence of ritual have been lost forever

Sadly, Pina didn’t document or photograph what he found inside the dolmen, so vital information about how the bodies had been laid out inside and any evidence of ritual have been lost forever

ebora-megalithica-great-dolmen-of-zambujeiro-top-with-trees

ebora-megalithica-great-dolmen-of-zambujeiro-front-with-canopy-looking-up

It is a real shame that there is no government or government-funded organisation like the National Trust to properly protect and preserve these important historical monuments in Portugal. All three monuments are open to the public and although it is important to allow people to see them, it is only by sheer luck that since the 1960s these monuments haven’t been abused and interfered with. Local conservationists are doing their best to educate visitors and protect the monuments as best they can, but unless vital funds are raised and government policy is changed, it is unlikely the dolmen at least will survive for much longer.

Useful Information

Évora can be reached by regular bus or train from Lisbon and the journey takes around ninety minutes. More information can be found here.

As stated, access to the monuments is free and can be visited any time day or night. The only way to reach them is by car with very good suspension. I don’t usually recommend tours and tour-guides, but on this occasion I believe it is not only vital but also respectful to use a local tour guide to reach and explore these monuments. Archaeologist and Évora-born Mario Carvalho from Ebora Megalithica Tour Guides made a film about the monuments that is both beautiful and truly inspiring. Watch it by clicking here …and for the record, I have received no payment or incentive for including Mario’s business website here. I am simply doing so because I was so impressed by his desire and determination to preserve these incredible monuments.

So inspired myself by his film and tour of the monuments, I made my own film of the megaliths and Évora city. It may not be as beautiful nor as polished, but hopefully it is just as enjoyable. Just press play below.

TLT x


Some sources say the chapel was created by local Franciscan monks to remind people to celebrate 'the bare bones' of life rather than just the material aspects of it

Évora: the magnificent church of tiles and the macabre chapel of bones


Lisbon: a touch Cristo Rei, Almada, Lisbon, shadowof Rio and San Francisco in the heart of the Portuguese capital


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