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.
The landscapes of Alentejo are rich in reminders of its past. From prehistory there are countless dolmens
, 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
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.
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.
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.
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
); Vinho do Alentejo
and Vinho do Redondo
); and presunto
, olive oil
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.