The village Ameixial


A aldeia de Ameixial

Ameixial is located in Serra do Caldeirão, on the northern border of the Loulé municipality, on the border with Almodôvar, Alentejo. It is the parish seat, with a total area of around 121.35 km2. Ameixial contains numerous hamlets, such as Besteiros, Vermelhos, Revezes, Corte João Marques, Corte de Ouro, among others. Most of the region gets their water from the hydrographic basin of the Ribeira do Vascão, one of the main watersources in the Algarve, which is famous for its length and width, as well as for all the natural and cultural heritage associated with it. The land is mainly occupied by forest, with various areas of agriculture - especially in the river valleys - with cork-oaks and holm-oaks predominating. As a result, there is also an economic activity directly associated with the exploitation of cork, and another indirect, namely through the production of medronho (arbutus-berry) firewater and honey. Grazing is another activity present in this region, mainly of goat-algarve.


The nature

The landscape of this parish is similar to that one found in the rest of the mountains, with extensive woods of cork oak, cistus, gorse, heather and strawberry trees. To the north, however, close to Vascão and the Alentejo region, nature’s relief becomes less rugged and the Holm oak woods acquire special relevance. There are more agricultural fields, mainly for grazing, and in the river valleys we can still find several active traditional hortejos. The Vascão Stream is a distinctive mark in this region, favouring the fauna and flora, internationally recognized by its mention in the Natura 2000 Network, the "Guadiana" Site and the Ramsar Site. Due to a number of protected species like the Iberian Lynx, the Otter or various native and migratory fish, such as the much endangered Saramugo, the Cumba or the Sea Lamprey, around 525ha of this parish are included in this European network of protected areas.

Birdlife is very rich in this area, with Bonelli's Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Eagle Owl, Nightingale and Warbler nesting in the area. Besides these, there is also the irregular occurrence of the Golden Eagle, Griffon Vulture and even the Imperial Eagle.

O património cultural

This is a region with a very remarkable cultural heritage. In particular, the archaeological component should be highlighted, which here acquires a very special significance and projects this region in a distinctive way. This importance is due to the existence of a set of megalithic monuments, namely two dolmens, the "Pedra do Alagar" and the "Anta do Beringel" - large stone structures covered by earth where the dead were buried, around 5.000 years old -, and to the record of several stelae with Southwestern writing - schist slabs where the first signs of written communication in the Iberian Peninsula were recorded -, dated between the 8th and 4th centuries BC. Ameixial, together with Baixo Alentejo, is the main area of archaeological finds of this nature, hence the expression "writing of the Southwest". Apart from this heritage, there are other relevant ancestral elements, such as Bronze Age burials, Islamic settlements - as is the case of the origins of Azinhal dos Mouros -, among other sites, scattered all over the parish and along the hillsides.

The villages

The evolution of Ameixial is associated with the history of accessibility to the Algarve, especially as it is situated next to the main road linking this region to the rest of the country. This enables the movement of people and goods through the mountains. In the parish records of 1758, the description of the village mentions three guest houses that served to support travellers, let animals rest and carry out any small repairs to continue their journey, which shows the importance it already had as a point of connection between the Algarve and the Kingdom. There is also a gas-station, built in the last century because of an intervention by the old JAE - Junta Autónoma de Estradas (Autonomous Highways Authority), due to the need to provide the village with support structures for travellers. That project resulted in the complete preservation of the original building as well as the construction of several houses for undertakers and support buildings. The architecture of those buildings is very similar to that of the station. This is another aspect famous in the region, in the small villages spreaded in the hills: the presence of traditional architecture, based on the ancestral arts of building with schist rock and, in some places, mud. Although in most of the villages of the parish - like many others in the region - desertification has caused their near disappearance, it is still possible to find inhabited hamlets, relatively well preserved and with a set of interesting, cultural details. A couple of references: Corte de Ouro with its circular haystacks and cabins, Azinhal dos Mouros with its ancient history, Vermelhos for the once great economic importance and Corte João Marques for the fortress that it hosted in the past.

A actividade humana

Human activity in this territory is ancestral and linked to forestry and agriculture. This is still the case today. Therefore, existence of several shepherds on this land is not surprising, especially goats and sheep for meat and milk production. 

The cork activity is very common, being one of the most important sources of income for the local inhabitants. The production of medronho (arbutus-berry) brandy is also quite popular, resulting in several distilleries in the area. Beekeeping is another well-established activity in Ameixial, together with small other activities linked to agriculture.