The Megalithic Sites:
The countryside around Évora is particularly rich in megalithic sites so we went in search of a few of them.
The first we found at the end of a long dirt road of rain-filled potholes. The Cromeleque dos Almendres is a group of huge stone circle of around 95 granite monoliths up to a couple of metres high. They sit on a gentle slope surrounded by cork trees. This is the biggest and most important megalithic site on the Iberian Peninsula, and one of the best in all Europe, yet here it was unfenced with not a ticket seller, souvenir stall or indeed any presence of any kind at all. The only acknowledgement that it is at all known about is a helpful sign with some information (in English, even better). We were the only people there for most of the time (only two other couples came and went) and we could wander around completely unhindered by any kind of officialdom.
The Menir dos Almendres is a single large monolith in the middle of farmers' fields. A long and muddy (and hence slippery) path fenced on each side winds through fields for much longer than we expected and opens up into a circular area with the stone at the centre. It sits there rather lonely; there is nothing else around, not even an information board.
And so on to the largest dolmen in Europe - the Anta Grande do Zambujeiro. We had seen some pretty nifty dolmens in Ireland and wondered if this is indeed the biggest. There is a path to get there which had been put in with quite some effort. A huge iron shelter had been erected to cover the dolmen - to say it was unsympathetic to the ancient structure underneath would be an understatement. But indeed it is big, huge even. There are 7 stones each about 6 metres high all surrounding a central area that is blocked off. The enormous capstone, lying on the ground next to it, had apparently been removed some years ago and the artefacts taken off to the Évora museum. Because the hill in which it is buried has only been half removed from the front of the dolmen, it is possible to climb up and peer inside. There isn't a lot to see...
Along the road we chanced upon a sign to another dolmen and found a little 17th century chapel built around a dolmen. The stones could be easily made out with the new walls filling in spaces and a roof perched on top. The whole structure had been whitewashed and trimmed in the traditional blue - it was all very clean, so one suspects that has been done quite recently. Quaint!
Next stop: Lisbon.