1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Alemtejo

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ALEMTEJO (i.e. “Beyond the Tagus”), an ancient province of central and southern Portugal; bounded on the N. by Beira, E. by Spanish Estremadura and Andalusia, S. by Algarve and W. by the Atlantic Ocean and Portuguese Estremadura. Pop. (1900) 416,105; area 9219 sq. m. Alemtejo is traversed by several mountain ranges, whose height does not generally rise much above 2000 ft. The low and sandy coast has a length of less than 25 m. and includes no harbour, except at the unimportant town of Villa Nova de Milfontes (pop. 1900, 825), which overlooks the Mira estuary. The principal rivers are the Tagus, which divides Alemtejo from Beira; its tributary the Zatas, or Sorraia, fed by a whole system of lesser affluents; the Guadiana, which, crossing the Spanish frontier, flows southwards through the province; the Sado, which rises in the Serra de Monchique, and flows to the north; and the Mira, which waters the valley between the Caldeirão and Monchique ranges. There are several extensive plains, notably those of Alemtejo, lying south-west of the Serra de Portalegre; of Beja, between the Sado and Guadiana; and of Ourique, farther south between the same rivers. Some portions of these plains are fruitful, others marshy, while large tracts are mere desolate wastes.

The climate in the lower parts of the country is exceedingly hot and is rendered unhealthy in summer by the stagnant marshes. Towards the Spanish frontier the soil is fertile, and in the south the country is covered by extensive forests of oak, pine, chestnut, cork and ilex, especially on the sides of the Mezquita and Caldeirão ranges. In the more fertile parts, grapes, figs, citrons, pomegranates and other fruits are produced. Wheat, maize and rice are grown, and some attention is given to the rearing of mules, asses, goats, cattle and sheep; while the Alter breed of horses, named after the villages of Alter do Chão and Alter Pedroso (3971), near Portalegre, is often accounted the best in the kingdom. Agriculture, however, is in a backward state, the sparse population being mostly concentrated in the towns, leaving extensive districts uncultivated and almost uninhabited. Droves of swine are fed on the waste lands, growing to a great size and affording excellent hams. The mineral wealth of Alemtejo is little exploited, although there are copper and iron mines and marble quarries. Medicinal springs exist at Aljustrel (3790), Castello de Vide (5192), Mértola (3873), Portalegre, Vimieiro (1838) and elsewhere. Chief among the local industries are the preparation of exceptionally fine olive oil, and the manufacture of cloth, pottery and leather. Alemtejo is traversed by three very important main lines of railway, the Madrid-Cáceres-Lisbon, Madrid-Badajoz-Lisbon and Lisbon-Faro; while the two last are connected by a branch line from Casa Branca to Evora and Elvas. For administrative purposes the province is divided into the districts of Portalegre in the north, Evora, in the central region and Beja in the south; but the titles of these new districts have not superseded the ancient name of Alemtejo in ordinary usage. The chief towns Beja (8885), Elvas (13,981), Estremoz (7920), Evora (16,020) and Portalegre (11,820) are described in separate articles.