Alentejo includes the regions of Alto Alentejo and Baixo Alentejo. It corresponds to the districts of Beja, Évora, Portalegre and the municipalities of Alcácer do Sal, Grândola, Santiago do Cacém and Sines, in the district of Setúbal. According to the interpretations, the municipality of Ponte de Sor (in the district of Portalegre) may be included either in Alentejo or, alternatively, in Ribatejo.
The comarca of the Alentejo became the Alentejo Province, divided into upper (Alto Alentejo Province) and lower (Baixo Alentejo Province) designations. The modern region of the Alentejo was expropriated from the medieval provinces and historical territories of Estremadura Province (specifically the 1936 portions of the Ribatejo). The term "Entre-Tejo-e-Guadiana" has become obsolete; it referred to roughly the same land area between the Tagus and the Guadiana rivers part of the Kingdom of Portugal.
Alentejo's area extends to 27,272 square kilometres (10,530 sq mi) (29.6% of the country) and has a population of 537,556 (5.1% of the country). Excluding Ponte de Sor, its area is 26,432 square kilometres (10,205 sq mi) and its population 520,834. The population density of Alentejo is 19.1/km².
Topographically, the countryside varies from the open rolling plains of the south of the Alentejo to the granite hills that border Spain in the north-east. To feed the water needs of this considerable area a number of public dams have been constructed, most notably the Alqueva Dam. The landscape is primarily one of soft rolling hills and plains, with conspicuous shrubs and the native cork oaks and holly/holm oaks, the established olive trees and grapevines, plus some naturalized eucalyptus trees and some native trees. In the north, traditional economic activity may be more livestock-based as typified by cow, sheep, and pig (both white and black) farming. To the south agriculture may be more predominant.
To the east of Portalegre is the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede, a Nature Park Area that includes medieval villages. In the south near Mértola there is another Nature Park Area named Parque Natural do Vale Guadiana. This is more scarcely inhabited than the former. To the west, the coastal strip that runs from the port of Sines down to Cape St. Vincent (this already in the Algarve) comprises the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park.
The climate of the region is typically warm and dry for a large part of the year with summer temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees Celsius while winters are relatively mild but wetter. The Alentejo is one of the hottest places in Europe, together with the nearby southern hinterland of Spain. In some areas of the Alentejo, annual temperature averages may be as high as 25 degrees, and 50 degrees have been measured there (Amareleja, 05/07/2010). In most of the Alentejo, the climate is Hot-Summer Mediterranean (Csa) although the south of Beja District has a Semi-Arid climate. In this part of the Alentejo, summers are even hotter than the summers in Almeria, a city in south-east Spain in an area with an arid desert-like climate. Most of the yearly rainfall occurs between the late autumn and the early spring. The largest cities in the Alentejo (Beja, Évora and Portalegre) are hot in summer with a Hot-Summer Mediterranean climate (Csa) but they are not the hottest cities, or villages in this Region. However, some studies even show that the Alentejo is not the hottest place in Portugal.
By the acceptable standards of a developed country, the illiteracy rate in the region may still be surprisingly high among those older than 60, in contrast with the younger generations. The rate of coverage of pre-primary education is among the highest in the country.
Institutions of higher education include:
The area is commonly known as the "bread basket" of Portugal, a region of vast open countryside with undulating plains and rich fertile soil. With very few exceptions all the major towns are mainly reliant on agriculture, livestock and forestry. There are several types of traditional cheeses, wines and smoked hams and sausages made in the Alentejo region, among others: Queijo Serpa, Queijo de Évora and Queijo de Nisa (PDO cheeses); Vinho do Alentejo and Vinho do Redondo (wines); and presunto (smoked ham). Marble, cork, olive oil and mining industries are other important activities in the region and tourism is expected to still have growth potential. The Alqueva Dam is an important irrigation and hydroelectricity generation facility which supports a part of the Alentejo's economy.
The region is the home of the world's most important area for the growing of cork. Cork-oak, known in Portugal as "sobreiro", has been grown commercially in the region for the past 300 years, with the areas between the trees typically given over to grazing, or on the more productive soils, to the growing of citrus fruit, vines or olives. As a consequence, a uniquely rich and varied ecosystem has developed. The bark of the cork-oak is still harvested by teams of men using locally made hand-axes. No mechanical method has yet been invented that will allow the harvest to be achieved as effectively. The stripping of the bark is performed only in mid-Summer, when the bark can be removed more easily. The cork-oak is the only tree known that will allow this regular stripping of bark without damage. The harvest of one mature tree provides sufficient bark to produce about 4,000 wine bottle corks. The industry provides employment for about 60,000 workers.
- BBC, "Natural World: Cork – Forest in a Bottle", BBC2, broadcast 8.00 pm, Tuesday, 9 December 2008.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Alemtejo.|