|(Almendres cromlech; photos by your humble blogkeeper)|
Almendres cromlech, a group of ninety-five standing stones outside Évora, is about 7,000 years old, predating Stonehenge by 2,000 years, our guide told us this morning, and he's no Portuguese chauvinist. In fact, he said, Portugal does a bad job of protecting the ancient monuments in which the country's southwest is so rich and of educating the public about the monuments.
menhir (left), and the Great Dolmen of Zambujeiro] lack the most basic facilities. There are no visitors' centers, no explanatory plaques, no trash cans or bathrooms. No postcard sellers, no bookstores, nothing to let visitors know they are in the company of anything but what locals, ignorant of the monuments' origins, traditionally called "castles of the Moors."
Back to Stonehenge. The British, our guide said, are the models for archaeological preservation and education. In Portugal, he said, appeals to history fall on deaf ears that hang off the head of mercenary politicians, and some of the most important monuments are in private hands, which bars UNESCO from stepping in and declaring the area a World Heritage Site.
Portugal's rich landowners are greedy and uneducated, he said, and the local people, loath to give up their traditional ways of life, resist the idea of rebuilding their local economies around tourism. So, in the end, I'd say I learned at least as much about contemporary Portugal as I did about its Neolithic predecessors.
The guide was an eloquent spokesman for public archaeology, and that's the cause to which he and the group of which he is part devote themselves. The group is called Ebora Megalithica, and I hope you'll join me in reading up on the group and, above all, on the wonderful landscape and history it seeks to protect.
(Read Detectives Beyond Borders' thoughts on some Bronze Age monuments.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2011