Alentejo

Alentejo

Alentejo, historic province, SE Portugal, now divided into Altro (Upper) Alentejo (4,888 sq mi/12,660 sq km) and Baixo (Lower) Alentejo (5,318 sq mi/13,774 sq km). The capital of Altro Alentejo is Évora, and the capital of Baixo Alentejo is Beja. The historic province has been further subdivided into the districts of Beja, Évora, and most of Setúbal and Portalegre. Alentejo, "the granary of Portugal," is drained by the Guadiana River and tributaries of the Sado River. Sheep, horses, cattle, and hogs are raised, and wheat, grains, olives, and fruits are grown. Alentejo produces over half of the world's cork. Alentejo was involved in Portugal's many wars with Castile. The name was formerly spelled Alemtejo.
formerly Alemtejo

Historical province, Portugal. Lying southeast of the Tagus River, it borders Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. The region produces two-thirds of the world's cork. Until the Portuguese revolution of 1974, Alentejo contained vast estates, mostly owned by absentee landlords; many have since been divided among the Alentejanos.

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Alentejo is a south-central region of Portugal. Its name's origin, "Além-Tejo", literally translates to "Beyond the Tagus" or "Across the Tagus". The region is separated from the rest of Portugal by the Tagus river, and extends to the south where it borders the Algarve. There are five sub-regions; the Alto (High) Alentejo, the Baixo (Lower) Alentejo, the Alentejo Central, the Alentejo Litoral, and Lezíria do Tejo. Its main cities are Évora (region's capital), Santarém (formerly belonging to Ribatejo region), Portalegre, Beja, and Sines. It has 776,585 inhabitants (2001), and an area of about 31,152 km² (density of 24 inhabitants per square kilometre).

Being a traditional, old-time region, it is also one of the more recent seven Regions of Portugal (NUTS II subdivisions). Today Lezíria do Tejo subregion, formerly belonging to Lisboa e Vale do Tejo region, is part of Alentejo NUTS II region. Alentejo is a region known for its polyphonic singing groups, comparable to those found on Sardinia and Corsica.

History

The landscapes of Alentejo are rich in reminders of its past. From prehistory there are countless dolmens, menhirs, and burial mounds. Impressive Roman relics are everywhere, from the still-standing temple at Évora to a mostly intact Roman villa at São Cucufate. While the Alentejo flourished under centuries of Roman rule, it thrived in the 400 years that the Moors held it. They left behind cultural and architectural ties, a Mosque at Mértola, and dozens of spectacular legends. By 1249 a young Portuguese nation, the Kingdom of Portugal, had incorporated the Alentejo, and strong castles arose to guard the plains. With mild winter weather, abundant soil, and a hospitable landscape, the Alentejo flourished in the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery in which the Portuguese played a major part. A noted Jesuit college was in operation from the 16th to the 18th century in Évora. Cork, wine and wheat would become the main production and the most important source of wealth in the region. Today, the Alentejo remains rural and natural with thousands of miles of cork forest and a variety of wildlife.

Geography

Topographically the countryside varies considerably, from the open rolling plains of the south of the Alentejo to the granite hills that border Spain in the north-east. To feed the water needs of this considerable area a number of public dams have been constructed, most notably the Alqueva Dam.

The landscape is mostly made of soft rolling hills or plains, with cork oaks and olive trees, or the occasional vine. In the north you can find mostly cattle, such as cows, sheep and pig (both white and black); to the south, you will find mostly crops.

Nature

To the east of Portalegre is the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede, a Nature Park Area that includes charming medieval villages that have changed very little from those days. In the south near Mértola is another Nature Park Area named Parque Natural do Vale Guadiana. This is mainly uninhabited and a contrast to the other above. To the west, the coastal strip that runs from the port of Sines down to Cabo de São Vicente is the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park.

Economy

The area is commonly known as the "bread basket" of Portugal, a region of vast open countryside with undulating plains and rich fertile soil. With very few exceptions all the major towns are mainly reliant on agriculture, livestock and wood. There are several types of typical cheeses, wines and smoked hams and sausages made in Alentejo region, among these: Queijo de Serpa, Queijo de Évora and Queijo de Nisa (cheeses); Vinho do Alentejo and Vinho do Redondo (wines); and presunto (ham). Marble, cork, olive oil and mining industries are other important activities in the region. The Alqueva dam is an important irrigation and hydroelectric power generation facility which supports a part of Alentejo's economy.

Subregions

See also

External links

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