Almendres Cromlech

Almendres Cromlech
© CanStockPhoto/mrfotos
One of the Almendres stones
Cromleque dos Almendres
© João Carvalho
Almendres Menhir
Cromleque dos Almendres
Almendres megalithic complex
© João Carvalho

Whilst Évora may be able to boast some quite impressive historic credentials there is a site, less than half an hour's drive away that predates anything in the city by thousands of years. Built in the early Stone Age the Almendres Cromlech (Cromleque dos Almendres) dates back over 6,000 years. But it isn't just the age which is impressive - this is the largest megalithic site to be found anywhere on the Iberian Peninsula. Although not quite of the scale of Carnac in Britanny, Almendres is far more atmospheric.

The location of the stones is on the slopes of Monte dos Almendres looking out over the nearby village of Guadalupe and to Évora beyond. The stones are set within olive and cork trees, standing in the bare red earth.

Almendres consists of a number of megalithic structures. The first you are likely to encounter is the solitary Menhir of Almendres - a single granite monolith standing at around 4.5 metres (14ft) tall. If a line is plotted from this stone to the centre of the Almedres Cormlech, it points to the sunrise on the Winter solstice. This and other alignments have lead archeologists to suggest the site was some kind of Neolithic astronomical observatory.

About 2.5km (1.5 miles) further down the dirt road you will arrive at the main complex. This consists of around 92 granite stones arranged into a large ellipse measuring around 40 metres (120ft) in diameter and a conjoined, smaller circle. There are also a few larger stones positioned around the site which don't have an obvious relationship. The main structures appear to have geometries associated with the Equinox. A number of the stones have some form of inscription on them.

Almendres was only discovered relatively recently. The site had become overgrown and the rocks sunk below the earth. It was in 1966 that geologist Henrique Leonor Pina stumbled across the site whilst conducting field work in the area. The following excavations revealed the full extent of the site. Archaeologist Mario Varela Gomes was responsible for much of the work unearthing and resetting the stones.

The Almendres Cromlech is a special place where the sense of history is almost palpable. Even if we never fully understand the meaning of this ancient site we can still enjoy the power of the stones.

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