Their fascination lies in their age. Built by Portuguese ancestors over many hundreds of years, they are one of life’s big mysteries, too, as I was totally oblivious to their existence until a friend mentioned them. The Almendres Cromlech near the town of Évora, is thought to be the oldest stone circle in Europe, even older than Stonehenge, and are a circle of prehistoric standing stones. Carvings can be seen on some of these stone formations, although they are difficult to spot due to erosion, and their meanings aren’t clear. There is no explanation as to who built many of these surviving standing stone circles, but there is evidence that our ancestors had masonry skills to cut, move, and assemble in ways that are difficult to explain.

The Almendres Cromlech are so named because the stones are the shape of almonds, with the word Almendres being actually Spanish for almonds. A massive number of some 95 stones of varying sizes form two large stone circles, once believed to be part of a ceremonial site dedicated to a celestial religion. The entire monument was constructed over a long period, with the first stones laid in 6,000 b.c., and was in continual use until 3,000 b.c. This double circle of standing stones is the oldest known in Europe and the largest in the Iberian Peninsula and was only discovered in 1964 by the investigator Henrique Leonor Pina, while he was working on the Geologic map of Portugal. In 2015, it was reclassified as a National Monument, and now it is part of the Megalithic Circuit in Evora and Alentejo.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Stonehenge Portugal’ or ’Portuguese Stonehenge,’ they are said to be about 2,000 years older than Stonehenge in the UK - one of the wonders of the world, and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.

How did they get there?

Good question! These stones were either natural formations or maybe chiselled into shape. Standing stones are usually very large vertical stones or boulders that have either occurred naturally over time or have been man-made.

Theories suggest that ropes and wooden rollers may have been used to move the stones into place. To erect just one stone, people dug a large hole with a sloping side. The back of the hole was lined with a row of wooden stakes. The stone was then dragged into position and hauled upright using plant fibre ropes and probably a wooden A-frame. Weights may have been used to help tip the stones upright.

The Almendres Cromlech were not built all at once but arranged and rearranged over a period of about 3000 years. Loosely arranged in two sets of concentric circles, the earliest stones in the smaller circles to the east were placed around 6000 BCE, while the larger rings to the west were added to the site around 5000 BCE, during the New Stone Age. The evidence shows they were redistributed in about 3000 BCE to be more in line with the sun, moon and stars, suggesting some mystical, cosmic purpose behind their construction.

What were they for?

The significance of standing stones is largely debated as they date all the way back to the stone age, and it's widely believed that they were placed in order to memorialise a notable event/celebration or to signify religious belief. Possible uses of standing stones include helping to strengthen stone walls at intervals or rubbing-stones for cattle. However, some are no doubt from the remains of graves or indeed already existing stone circles. Hence the superstition, people believed that as long as they were still standing, no bad luck would befall them.

The Almendres Cromlech is 4.5 km WSW of the village of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe, in the municipality of Évora, in the Portuguese Alentejo. It’s easy to reach, taking the N114 road, which connects Évora to the town of Montemor-o-Novo. The journey time is about 25 minutes, but you need a car, as there is no public transportation. Just follow the signs, and eventually, a dirt road leads directly to the site.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan