Almendres Cromlech: rare twin megalithic stone circles of Portugal
The Almendres Cromlech, Alentejo, Portugal.
Located on the slopes of the Monte dos Almendres in Portugal is the ancient megalithic site of Almendres Cromlech, also popularly known as the ‘hill of the stone amphorae.’ The stunningly well-preserved site is the most important megalithic arrangement in Portugal and is also believed to be one of the oldest stone circles in Europe.
Almendres Cromlech, known locally as Cromeleque Dos Almendres, is located close to the city of Évora in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Despite being just a short distance from Évora, transport to the site is difficult, making it an unpopular destination for tourists. Consequently, this special site remains free and open at all times. No fences or ropes keep visitors back, and it is possible to freely wander around the site and even touch the stones, a rare experience for such a historically important place.
The Twin Circles of Almendres Cromlech
Yet, Almendres Cromlech is not just any megalithic site . Consisting of over 90 granite standing stones, it is the largest megalithic site in the Iberian Peninsula , and one of the largest in Europe as well. The stones are arranged in two ‘twin’ circles.
The ring to the east is circular in shape and the smaller of the two. It contains the oldest stones, which have been dated to the Early Neolithic period (6000 BC). The ring to the west, on the other hand, is elliptical in shape, and is believed to have been built during the Middle Neolithic period (5000 BC).
Ancient Astronomical Observatory
It is believed that around 3000 BC many of the stones were repositioned to align with the celestial bodies – the sun, moon, and stars. Therefore, it has been speculated that Almendres Cromlech may have functioned as a sort of astronomical observatory .
For instance, if a line were to be plotted from the solitary Menhir of Almendres (a single granite monolith rising to a height of around 4.5 meters (14.76 ft.)) to the center of the Almendres Cromlech, it would point towards the sunrise on the Winter solstice . And the Midsummer solstice also draws in a crowd to experience the celestial event as well. Although there are trees in the way now, The Independent reports that the Neolithic builders of the site would have watched “the sun rise over the left-hand monolith at midsummer and then see it move gradually, over six months, to rise over the right-hand, southerly, monolith at midwinter.”
With its location on the eastern slope of the hill, the Almendres Cromlech faces sunrise and it is aligned to the spring and autumn equinoxes. On those dates, when the day and night has an equal length, the sun and moon rise at the same point on the monument’s axis.
Ceremonial Site and Symbols
Others have speculated that the site had some ritual or religious significance for those living around it. This may be supported by the engravings found on some of the stones at Almendres Cromlech . Stone 56, for instance, is recorded as having a depiction of a human face, and is considered to be a menhir statue.
It has been suggested that the statues might be a representation of an ancient god or deity. Some people today still regard the site as ritually or religiously important, and are known to practice their form of belief at the site.
Another popular design found on the stones is the shepherd’s crook – a straight line with a curved hook at the top of it. The Independent reports that the symbol is a sign of the community’s main interest, “This was a society of sheep herders , as it still is today.”
Nevertheless, like many other such sites, the exact function of Almendres Cromlech is still a mystery, and will probably continue to puzzle us for some time to come. Moreover, this site entered the knowledge of modern humans only relatively recently, as it was re-discovered only in the 20th century.
Over the millennia since they were erected, the stones became neglected, many of them toppling over and sunk into the ground. It was only in the 1960s that a geologist, Henrique Leonor Pina, stumbled upon the site while conducting fieldwork in the area. Following extensive excavations to reveal the site, the stones were unearthed and reset in their proper positions – for the most part, one is said to have the shepherd’s crook engraving facing the wrong direction.
There is probably still much more that archaeologists can learn from this interesting prehistoric site. Furthermore, given the fact that there are not many tourists visiting the site, it is hoped that Almendres Cromlech, unlike many other ancient sites, will retain its present character.