Prehistoric Portugal and the Iberian Mesopotamia

Hidden away in the cork forests and olive tree covered hills of Alentejo are some real historical gems — especially in the area around Guadaloupe near Evora which is known as the “Iberian Mesopotamia.” The most famous of these is the Cromlech of the Almendres megalithic complex — an ancient stone circle, and to the South the amazing passage mound — The “Anta Grande do Zambujeiro.”

The double stone circle at Almendres is considered one of the most important stone circles in Europe. It dates from 5000-4000 BC and consists of 92 standing stones arranged in an oval.

We visited the stone circle early in the morning before all the tourists arrived.

We walked up through the trees to find this beautifully preserved historical site in front of us.

The stones are arranged in two oval circles and nearly all of them have flattened heads which face towards the sun.

This is a beautiful magical place full of earth energy.

The passage mound to the south is equally fascinating but not as beautiful in itself as it has to be supported and boarded up to keep out unwanted visitors.

The Anta Grande do Zambujeiro (Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro) dates from c.4000-3500 BC. It is the largest dolmen in Europe.

The dolmen is located in a peaceful setting among olive and cork trees. The main chamber — measuring 8 meters high and 6 meters in diameter — is formed by eight standing stones leaning inward. Leading to the chamber is a 12-meter-long approach corridor made of smaller standing stones.

The capstone has been removed by archaeologists and the artefacts found here (pieces of pottery, flint tools, beads and other items) are on display at the Museum in Evora.

We are hoping to return later this year with the 4-wheel drive so we will be able to explore other areas and sites nearby which are “off road.”

16 comments

  • This is such a lovely and eerie read, Nicola! As I was editing your images, I could feel the magic in the air. The sun. The stones. The historic heavy depths of the people who chose the set these totems in space.

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  • It has an atmosphere similar to my favorite stones in the UK – but as it is less commercialised than them it retains its magic. Early morning is definitely the time to go – we spent two gloriious peaceful hours there – just being – we escaped just as two coaches of German tourists arrived ,…………… PHEW!

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    • I was going to ask you if this is a popular tourist stop. Now we know it is!

      Are the stones naturally smoothed or are they tooled in some way?

      Are the flathead stones all set at the same angle? When you say they are made to face the sun, which direction do their faces point?

      Go you get the feeling this is more Easter Island or Stonehenge or something else?

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  • Some of the stones have markings – sadly my photographs of them are not the best as they were against the sun – you can see some other images of the marked ones here – http://www.sacred-destinations.com/portugal/almendres-cromlech/photos/engraved-stone2-wp-pd

    The main body of thought is that this was similar to Stonehenge in that it catches the sun and noon at certain tines of the year,

    it reminds me of Catlerigg in Cumbria http://www.visitcumbria.com/kes/castlerigg-stone-circle/ – the stones are smaller and of different composition that those at Stonehenge and Avebury – both of which I know very well.

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    • Ah, yes! I see the tool marks. Even better and more fascinating!

      I love these sort of indelible, undefinable, shrines to the human spirit. In their time, there was no cultural doubt about what these stones meant and what they were doing there and then time passes and the people pass away, but the stones endure, unchanged and still on a misson that now becomes a conundrum for the living. Only the dead really know.

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  • I am a great fan too ……..I spent a happy childhood playing amongst the stones at Stonehenge before it was cordoned off, the same at Avebury – if anything I am a child of the stones.

    I try to iimagine , what – if anything we build today -will last as long as these amazing circles have done – they are an amazing legacy.

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  • The pictures give me such an eerie, calm feeling. I always have a surreal sense when I look at something and know how incredibly old it is– how much history it has been through.

    What off-road sites are you hoping to see next time around? Any architecture, or will they be all natural?

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  • There is a map on this page of similar sites nearby – it also has all the historic buildings in EVORA itself http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=12276/ – So yes there will be some architecture and some natural.

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  • I can imagine the peace and magical feeling of being in such a place. great that you were able to enjoy a couple of hours of peace before the crowds rushed in. I missed the opportunity to visit these stones while we were living in Spain as well as the Alhambra, which I completely regret not getting too. You know how it can be when something is so close and you think, oh I’ll get there sometime soon, but never do. Well, thanks for taking me there in your post!

    It is always so surreal to sit a while in such a prehistoric place and imagine the early inhabitants working, living and just being. Put things in perspective I think – as far as realizing how big the world is and that we are only just a small speck in the history of it all.

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    • I still have places in the UK where Ihave lived all my life up until now – and I still have places I have to visit. I am trying to make sure I visit everything I can here – I do not want to miss anything,

      I love the sense of being a part of that history – I will settle for being a small speck , a stitch in that tapestry.

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  • I hadn’t heard of this stone circle. Thanks for sharing, it looks otherworldly there. Or sacred.

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