February 3, 2020
On a bright sunny morning we rented a car from Europcar to explore the area outside of Evora, Portugal. We could have taken a bus tour for €50 pp, but found we could rent a car for 24 hours for €22 and a tank of gas. After stopping at the Evora Information Center for a map, we were off looking for rocks, castles and cork in a rental fiat.
Be sure to stop at the Megalithic Information Center in Guadalupe. It has some wonderful informational panels about the flora and fauna of the entire area. It’s an excellent resource center.
Megalithic Rocks and Cork Tree Forests
There are three sites of megalithic rocks of importance in this area. These rocks are the same type of rocks that are the central topic of the Outlander books. Each site of rocks was used for a different purpose.
The first site we visited was one done on foot as the dirt roads were not in good shape and we wanted to get our rental car back in one piece. So, we parked the car along the side of the road and hiked about 1+ miles to see the Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro (kinda sounds like we are visiting the Great Oz). This 3,000 – 4,000 year old structure was a free-standing group of marble slabs that made up a funerary chamber. It was nestled amongst a large grove of cork trees. So, two for the price of one attraction.
The second site we visited was the Almendres Cromlech which is approximately 8,000 years old and is believed to be the largest on the Iberian peninsula. These rocks form two circles and total 95 standing stones. This site wasn’t discovered until the 1960’s when a farmer was laying out his field. Scientists believe that this was an astronomical observatory or a religious and ceremonial site.
Our last rock visit of the day was to a single stone that required a less than pleasant walk to reach. The Menir dos Almendres is a 10.5’ granite projectile that aligns with the Almendes Cromlech during the solstices. Scientists are not sure what the significance of this rock is, but the alignment, over a mile away from Almendes, isn’t just a coincidence. I refer to this rock as the finger rock (I think you can see why from the picture).
The Castle and Town of Arraiolos
Our next stop was the town of Arraiolos (only 12 km from Evora) to have lunch and to stroll around the castle grounds above the city. Arraiolos was significantly established around the 4th millennium BC. In 1305, King Dinis constructed the castle and lived in it for quite some time. The Castle of Arraiolos is one of the few castles in the world to be constructed in the round. Today, you can roam around the inside of the castle walls, the remains of the castle and the Igreja do Salvador Church.
The town of Arraiolos is very nice and is well known for its handmade carpets. These carpets are considered to be some of the finest hand made handicrafts in Portugal. It is believed that the Moors brought this knowledge with them to Arraiolos in the 12th century. Sadly, we ran out of time and did not get to explore much of the town.
Directions: Stop in at the Evora Information Center located at the Praça do Giraldo and ask for a map of the mega stones. The information center will circle each place on the map and suggest other towns to check out in the area. Go to the Almendres Cromlech stones early (before 10) to miss the tourist buses.