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Portugal in Three Parts - 1

Notes and photographs from around the Evora area of Portugal's Alentejo region 19th-20th February 2007

Barrocal Dolmen, Near Tourega, Evora

For a slideshow overview of Portugese sites included in the weblogs, follow the link:

The photos in the weblog are all reduced in size for speed of loading, larger versions can be found here:

Monday 19th February 2007

"Portugal is home to enormous numbers of very ancient megaliths. Indeed, it is claimed by some archaeologists to be the aboriginal centre of the whole culture. Futhermore, the stupendous circular stone enclosures known as cromeleques and their equally impressive neighbours the huge chambered antas of the Alentejo share their landscapes with ancient monuments that have only recently been recognised as such."
Julian Cope, The Megalithic European

"The standard of driving is appalling and the accident fatality rate is the highest in Europe... Mild mannered and relaxed most of the time, the Portugese turn into demons behind the wheel."
Globetrotter: Lisbon and Portugal

For our trip to Portugal, we pored over two guidebooks, my travel-worn copy of TME was to be my bible and the Globetrotter guide quoted above was borrowed from the library by my wife, putting my expectations of sunny driving days from cromeleque to anta into serious turmoil!
Hiring a car in Portugal is cheap as chips, and the only way of properly visiting the remarkable sites of the Altentejo, but was it worth risking life and limb? I drive most of the day every day in my normal work, so I am not of a nervous disposition behind the wheel but could I expect my wife to trust me on the wrong side of the road, on the wrong side of the car, and on the wrong side of suicidal maniacs in Renault Twingos?

As it turns out, much of the bad press Portugese drivers get is alarmist and unjust and probably written by people who have never driven in West Kerry. The only danger we faced was of spontaneous self-combustion brought on by rage at the GPS voice-over calmly announcing another 'route re-calculation' as we missed yet another tentacle-like slip road that sneaks off the spaghetti junctions that look like they were designed after a charming drawing of a tree stuck to a refrigerator with a magnet in the shape of a banana with a smily face.

So, we left lovely Lisbon on an early, grey and damp morning for Evora and were duly impressed that a motorway took us practically from outside the hotel to the outskirts of Evora in less than an hour and a half (including a quick stop for coffee and an attempt to purchase some CD's for the journey that yielded only a 70's and 80's compilation featuring Mungo Jerry and Gloria Gaynor).

Arriving far too early to check in to our hotel, the rather nice-for -the-money 'Evora Hotel', I found it far too hard to resist the prominent signs for 'Cromeleque Dos Almendres' that seem to point from every road and track hereabouts. Our GPS saw fit to abandon us at the nearest village but small wooden signs led us down a muddy dirt track with potholes sufficient to bury well fed pigs. How much longer? The lane seemed to go on and on until suddenly, on your left, the most amazingly peculiar and fattened stones seem to wander off from the roadside downhill into the bushes and scrub below.

Almendres Stone Circle

Almendres Stone Circle

This is a wonderland of stones, a playground for the child in every megalithic traveller. Confusion changes to pattern and back again and then you notice the wondeful, weathered carvings.

Almendres Stone Circle

Almendres Stone Circle

Even with the very poor light and occasional bus load of tourists, this was one place you could spend a day wandering, incomparable.
To see more, larger photos of Almendres, follow the link:

Some time later we made it back to the hotel and after a quick lunch and scrub I set off for the afternoon. After the wonderful Almendres, the Gates of Mogos cromeleque was too tantalising to put off for tomorrow, bad light and all. Cloudy, grey conditions are, though, pretty much the perfect conditions for photographing woodland sites, strong sunlight causes massive contrast and confusion that 2D photographs from current digital technology find almost impossible to handle.

The Gates of Mogos is another site with quite easy access, the directions in TME took me right to the parking space nearby but thats when the trouble started. Beside the directions in the book is a photo of a small red and white sign and the notes continue 'Stop at red and white sign and follow boggy path uphill for 250 metres, continue to brow of hill where stones are easily visible'. No problem at all, directly beside the sign there is indeed a small gate with a boggy path leading uphill. Almost one full hour later after getting disorientated more than once in the maze of paths leading through the uniform plantations of trees, over hills and ridges in every direction, in final exasperation I decided to cross the road and located a barely visible track through the undergrowth leading up the slope and lo-and-behold, there was the maginficent ruins of the Gates of Mogos! When I returned to the car I could see on the map at the beginning of the Portugal section it is marked on this side of the road but you wouldn't guess it from the directions in a million years!

Gates of Mogos Stone Circle

Gates of Mogos Stone Circle

Gates of Mogos Stone Circle

This is a wonderful riot of a site, the standing stones are at first glance haphazard and eccentrically placed but after rooting around you find many more stones prostrate and fallen, some leading past the fenced in public area down the slope below. One stone, one of the smallest, seems to have been attacked at some point and the top almost destroyed. The centre-piece is an 'outrageous four metre central phallus stone whose ridged quartzite glans demands as much attention as Long Meg' according to Cope, a great description for this mammoth of towering stone, seemingly flattened and worked into its now shapely form.

A difficult site to photograph, it has however become one of my all-time favourite sites thus far. Though restored it has not been sanitised at all, a distant world just a few hundred metres from the road.
More and larger photos of Mogos can be found here:
With so much time spent looking for and looking at Mogos, the remainder of the evening left little time for field wandering and head scratching so instead I made my way to what surely must be the most unmissable, unbelievable and unlikely Franken-megalith, the bizarre Dolmen Church of Pavia.

Dolmen Church of Pavia

Dolmen Church of Pavia

The dolmen is located in the village square, though as you approach the village a large brown sign tries to entice you away, promising 'Antas' with no directions or distance. I took the road later and found nothing. In the square itself, a little Citroen rental car gets much more notice than the monstor standing in its midst from the old men sitting around on benches. As I set up on the street the buzzing of a quad bike seemingly propelled by rocket jets careering round the corner sent me scrambling to swipe the camera and tripod off the road and then disaster! The tripod head had not locked in the foot on the camera base properly and the evasive action sent the camera, lens and filters smashing to the ground with a terrible clang. Horror! With one filter smashed, its holder cracked and the adapter ring bent I considered it a lucky escape. The lens is still stiff but no other damage seems to have affected the camera or lens. Phew!

Back to the dolmen, I can only give a brief description because this one is almost indescribable! It was once a fine anta of very large stones though its cairn and passage have been completely removed. The large captstone, or part of it, still sits on top but the gaps between have been filled with concrete and the tower and facade of a tiny church have been imposed on the front of the dolmen. Gates bar entry to the small chapel inside which has niether seats nor adornment apart from a tiny altar at the rear. It is enclosed on three sides by close buildings and faces away from the main square as if it were sent to stand in the corner in shame. Odd, very, very odd!

Dolmen Church of Pavia

Larger photos of Pavia are posted here:

As dark drew closer, I headed back to Evora though more than once became sidetracked by 'Anata' signs that pointed here and there but bore no fruit. Tomorrow however, I was determined to catch some wild antas come rain, hail or barbed wire.

CianMcLiam Posted by CianMcLiam
24th February 2007ce
Edited 8th April 2007ce

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