During our few days in Evora, Portugal, we wanted to take a side trip to see the Almendres Cromlech megalith. The standing stones weren’t accessible by public transit and we didn’t want to rent a car if we didn’t have to. Luckily, our hotel owner was extremely helpful in hooking us up with a friend of his who could give us a private, guided tour out to the standing stones.
The Almendres Cromlech megalith is about a half-hour drive west of Evora. The stones are estimated to be around 2000-3000 years older than Stonehenge, which is thought to have been constructed between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. The Almendres Cromlech is made of two distinct circles, and the smaller ring to the east was constructed around 6000 BC during the Neolithic period.
A few things about this site really stood out for us: the location itself, nestled amongst a cork tree forest, the fact that there was no admission fee or even fences around the site, and the amazing realization that except for one lone fellow riding through the area on his bicycle, we were the only three people there.
The site consists of 95 granite standing stones forming two rings, the smaller round ring being the oldest. The larger ring is oval and was built later, around 5000 BC. Over all, the site measures around 70 meters by 40 meters. Originally it began as a horseshoe shape opening to the east, but was modified over time.
Amazingly, it seems the site was in almost continual use until 3000 BC. As with Stonehenge, Almendres seems to have been built as a ceremonial calendar of sorts dedicated to a celestial religion. There are other megaliths in the area, but this one is considered to be one of the oldest and largest in Europe. It’s also believed to be one of the first public monuments ever created by humans.
There is evidence that around 3000 BC some of the stones were moved to align with the celestial bodies such as the sun, moon and some stars. In fact, there is a lone megalith approximately 1km away called the Menhir of Almendres, and if a straight line is drawn from this point to the center of Almendres Cromlech, it point towards the sunrise on the Winter solstice.
After the site fell out of use, centuries passed and its location was largely forgotten. It was rediscovered in the 1960s by a geologist named Henrique Leonor Pina. The site was excavated and the stones that had toppled over were placed upright once more.
Approximately a dozen stones had carvings on them, however they’re difficult to discern due to erosion. However we were able to photograph a few of the clearer images. This one had circles carved into the face:
These semi-circular carvings almost remind me of an octopus:
It’s anyone’s guess what these anthropomorphic images were meant to represent, but theories suggest that they could be the first sculptural representations of guardian deities. Whatever they represent, there’s no denying that Almendres Cromlech is a very special place.