Within Zone 5 lie Alto Alentejo, the eastern part of Baixo Alentejo, from Mértola to Alcácer do Sal, and the region of Ponte de Sor in Ribatejo.The region is made up of vast dry plains where the climate is hot and dry. Population is low and the majority of inhabitants are involved in agriculture.The climate is the continental-Mediterranean variety related to a use and abuse of whitewash and the absence or paucity of windows. The rural economy is based on the extensive cultivation of non-irrigated cereals as well as forests of cork trees and holm-oaks and the pastoral rearing of pigs and sheep.
The distribution of land into latifundia comes from the days of the Reconquest of Portugal from the Moors, the first owners being the nobles and religious military orders. Although most farm labourers go home to their villages on the estates at the end of the day others have to be housed on the «montes» which are small communities grouped together on a gentle rise of land. Communities in the Alentejo are consequently scattered, comprised of «montes» far from one another due to the size of the estates.The houses in Vidigueira and Vila de Frades are an exception in that they form concentrated communities living from vineyards and market gardens divided up into small properties.There are also cases of mixed townships in the irrigated areas of Estremoz, Borba and Vila Viçosa and scattered rural communities connected to the farms near the cities. In the infrequent mountainous areas communities are found on the sites of pre and proto-historic camps, such as Marvão, Castelo de Vide and Evora-Monte. Here as in any region, the presence of roads and highways as well as military and religious centres has influenced population distribution.
The most important materials in use are brick, loam, adobe, whitewash, stone, wood, cane and «piorno» (dried bitter broom). In this region as throughout the south of the country (a region that includes areas of Beira Litoral and Beira Baixa) the flat plan is predominant. Architectural styles are clear and well defined and artistically accentuated by white washing. The gently sloping one or two sided roofs are generally in a long line and the chimney is usually large and obviously a part of the design. Given the difficulties of analysing common characteristics, it is preferable to present an architectural analysis according to geographic factors since the relationship is obvious between construction methods and the physical-geographical features of the natural sub-regions.
The sandy sub-region stretching from the valley of the Tagus to the southern limit of the municipality of Portalegre, including a part of the municipality of Crato: Granite is used in walls where large blocks pass right through the wall and are visible from both sides, for door and window surrounds and to support outside stairways, as in Beira Central. Two storied houses are common as well as the verandah, but with a brick railing rather than wood as found in the centre and north of the country. This sub-region has more in common with Beira Baixa than with the other sub-regions of the Alentejo.
Castelo de Vide with the Fonte square, its steep streets leading up to the castle has some interesting buildings and some surprising perspectives. The same is true of Marvão, Galegos or in the square of Vila Alegrete now almost reduced to the forecourt of the church. There are innumerable examples of formal architecture in the country mansions of Portalegre and Marvão and the castle of Flor da Rosa. Sub-region of clays that takes in the municipalities of Ponte de Sor, Alter do Chão, Aviz, Sousel, Fronteira, Monforte, Aronches, Elvas and Campo Maior and where whitewash is constantly used.
Sub-region of the Borba range including the municipalities of Estremoz, Borba, Vila Viçosa and part of that of Alandroal which is the most mountainous, has abundant water and variable climatic conditions. In this sub-region two floored houses are plentiful and the chimney is frequently placed on the front of the house but only from the top of the first floor upwards. In the towns there are windows and doorways with marble finishing. Stone is as much used as whitewash.
Sub-region of the Évora plain to which belong the municipalities of Arraiolos, Montemor-o-Novo, Viana do Alentejo, Evora, Redondo, Alandroal, Reguengos and Portel. Here the predominating architecture is full and solid, rich in arched roofs, small vaults and domes, sometimes groined like those of Portel. Such structures are even used nowadays in more modern formal architecture and mark the origin of the repetition of the false arch with a window set in it. Évora is a veritable treasure of formal architecture, mainly Renaissance and Baroque, but where, however, the persistence of local art can be seen in certain details. In this museum-city the contrast of granite with whitewash is a prevalent feature. Also important as an example of a walled Medieval community is Monsaraz, with all the wealth and variety of features stemming from its situation.
Clay sub-region of Beja confined in this zone to the municipalities of Beja, Alvito, Cuba, Vidigueira and Ferreira and where the extensive cultivation of wheat predominates, with the exception of the granite valley of Vidigueira where the vine, olive, fig and orange tree flourish. The use of loam is generalised throughout this sub-region and that with large buildings gives local architecture a solid look and a tendency towards horizontal lines because there is usually only one floor. Doors and windows are no more than open holes on the surface of repeatedly whitewashed walls, and when there are windows they are frequently closed only by solid wooden shutters. The importance of the chimney and the use of various colours in strips and round the base of house walls is less than in the sub-region to the north .
Sub-region beyond the River Guadiana between the river and the frontier and in which, in Loura and Serpa, vestiges of the presence of the Moors are noticeable (the construction of arched ceilings and small domes, the kitchen garden isolated from the street by high walls, which like the house are whitewashed and almost without openings).
This text was transcribed from the English translation of Arquitectura popular em Portugal, Vol. III. published in 1988. All images were scanned from the same volume.
Title: Arquitectura popular em Portugal
Author: Alfredo da Mata Antune/Associação dos Arquitectos Portugueses
Published: Banco de Fomento Nacional, 1988, Lisbon
Posted: May 2020
Categories: alentejo, architecture, crafts, earth, localism, portugal, raw materials, research, vernacular architecture