The village of Alte, seat of the parish, is located in the geographical centre of the Algarve. It is one of the most typical and preserved villages in the interior Algarve, with houses painted in traditional colours, roof terraces, chimneys and ancient alleys paved in Portuguese cobblestone. With an area of approximately 97 sq. km, Alte lies in the extreme northwest of the municipality of Loulé, facing São Bartolomeu de Messines to the west, São Barnabé (Almodôvar) to the north, Benafim to the east and Paderne (Albufeira) to the south.
LANDSCAPE AND NATURAL CHARACTERISTICS
The origin of the word may have an explanation linked to the Catholic religion. A tale tells us that a wealthy female farmer, an assiduous attender of mass, contributed a lot to the expenses of the church and the chaplain. He would never start the homily before she arrived. One day, on the way to the church, when she became aware that the ceremony had already taken place, she said: “Alto (stop/hill in Portuguese)! I will have a church built right here.” Around this church, dedicated to Nossa Senhora da Assunção, the Parish of Alte flourished, with the Serra do Caldeirão to the north and the barrocal valleys to the south.
In 1565, when the Masters of S. Thiago (or Sant’iago) visited the chapel, there were only 70 “neighbours” in the village. Later, in 1747, new records, this time by Father Luís Cardoso, state: «Alte, a place in the Kingdom of the Algarve, district of Tavira, council of Loulé. The place and the entire parish are composed of 489 dwellings. It is the land of the King and has its place in a valley on the banks of a stream, which spills its impetuous current over here, as it runs through the abrupt and rough cliff. From the top of the hills surrounding the place and forming the valley you can glance at almost the entire district of the Algarve.»
In the 2021 National Statistics reports, 1.746 inhabitants were registered in the parish of Alte.
THE VICAR’S WATERFALL
CASCATA (OU QUEDA) DO VIGÁRIO
Although it may seem like a natural phenomenon, the Vicar’s Waterfall, to the south of the cemetery, was actually man-made in the 17th century. Some say that a small waterfall already existed, in times of more abundant rainfall, but it was the 18th Lord of Morgado d’Alte (Alte Majorat), D. Duarte de Melo, who carried out several hydraulic works, mainly to be able to irrigate his lands and to supply several water mills producing wheat and barley flour. That goal led him to slightly deviate the course of the Alte stream – which starts at Quinta do Freixo and feeds on the waters of Fonte Grande – and to build, as a work of beautification, the waterfall that remains to this day. A bold undertaking for the time, which only the wealth of the lordship d’Alte permitted.
THE BIG AND THE SMALL FOUNTAINS
FONTE GRANDE E FONTE PEQUENA
The two fountains, Pequena and Grande, are important points of attraction for locals and tourists, due to being easily accessible and to their abundance of water. In the past, they served as a meeting point for women who washed their clothes at the fountains or carried water home. In the late 40’s of the 20th century, the Fonte Pequena was recovered, and a Picnic Park was built. Fonte Grande, on the other hand, was subject to intervention in 1986, creating the current natural pool – almost 100 meters long, very popular in the summer – and a restaurant.
These two places, which are a few dozen meters apart, are very popular on the 1st of May, the day of the traditional incursion into the countryside where people go and have picnics all over the Algarve, marking the opening season to eat boiled snails (escargots). An itinerancy that lasts into the 21st century.
ROCHA DOS SOIDOS
The Rocha dos Soidos is the highest point in the parish. It is one of the four hills surrounding Alte, the other ones being Galvana, Francilheira and Rocha Maior. The summit of Rocha dos Soidos is at an altitude of 482 meters and that’s why it served as a guiding point for travellers and navigators.
Rocha dos Soidos hides a large cave, located 400 meters above sea level, called Igrejinha dos Soidos, home to several colonies of bats (protected species). The Igrejinha dos Soidos cave got its name thanks to its interior shape, with vaulted ceilings and small recesses in the walls that evoke the naves of churches and their niches. The main room is 38 meters long, oriented southwest-northeast, and 20 meters wide, with a maximum height of about 11 meters (Straus et al., 1988). Research carried out by António Carvalho and Humberto Veríssimo, from the University of Algarve, resulted in the finding of objects that put human occupation in this cave at the end of the Bronze Age, around 1400 BC.
FAUNA AND FLORA
Once quite common, animals such as wolves, eagles, griffins, owls and common cranes are now extremely rare, and some have actually disappeared. It is still possible to find some foxes, wildcats or mongooses, and otters along the streams, but these ones are quite hard to spot. On the other hand, we can find some species of bats in the caves, although they must not be disturbed during reproduction periods (bats are a protected species).
Regarding flora, we can search for a wide variety of plants (warning: some are poisonous) such as the Oak apple, the Three divided prangos (Prangos trifida) the Devil’s grass (Chondrilla juncea), the Vampirecups (Cytinus), the Flax-leaved daphne (Daphne gnidium) and the Petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus), the Bird’s foot (Ornithopus compressus), the Shameplant (Mimosa pudica), the Common houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum), the Tongue-orchid (Serapias lingua), the Old-man-in-the-spring (Senecio vulgaris), the Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) and the Spiny sowthistle (Sonchus asper).
The church dates back to the late 13th century and it was built by Dona Bona, wife of Garcia Mendes de Ribadeneyra, 2nd Lord of Alte, as per stated in the records of the Archive of Casa d’Alte. At that time, it would have been a simple private chapel of devotion, and not a parish church, as it is today.
The coins with the effigy of D. João I found in an excavation carried out during the repair of the clock tower, as mentioned by A.H. de Oliveira Marques, in the book Para a História do Algarve Medieval, 1987, prove that the temple already existed in the 14th century.
The building has three naves. The middle one is based on masonry arches and stone columns, while the other two are made of chestnut wood and pot tiles.
Nowadays, there’s a coffered wooden ceiling. The tiles, in blue and white, cover the ceiling and walls. They date from the 18th century, in Baroque style, as described by Francisco Lameira and Marco Sousa Santos, specialists in religious heritage in the Municipality of Loulé.
The image of Nossa Senhora da Assunção occupies the main altar. To the left of the chancel is the altar of the Santíssimo Sacramento and, to the right, that of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, which also dates from the 18th century and features an extensive and very interesting application of Baroque carvings.
CAPELA DE SÃO LUÍS
CHAPEL OF ST. LOUIS
The Chapel of São Luís was built by Álvaro Mendes de Ribadeneyra, 6th Lord of Alte, at the beginning of the 15th century. In the Archives of the Casa d’Alte, it is written that it was erected as a sign of gratitude «in the place where his infant son, Pero Mendes, was found playing with two bears that did him no harm». The oldest written references date, however, to the 18th century, in 1747.
The chapel has a single nave, with a ridged roof. At the head, with a dome, is the high altar, in golden carvings. São Luís is considered the protector of animals.
HERMITAGE OF SANTA MARGARIDA
THE CASTLE OF ALTE
Although no traces are visible today, there are written evidences pointing to the existence of a castle in Alte. Among them, the reference in the Archive of Casa d’Alte about a building «overlooking a large downtown through which passed the old road to Loulé ». The records describe the creation of the Majorat of Alte (one of the biggest in the Algarve), granted to João Gomes de Ribadeneyra, fourth son of Captain Ribadeneyra, who had distinguished himself in the battle against the Moors at Navas de Tolosa (Spain), in 1212. It goes like this: «The King was busy running around (…) while in the siege of Castelo d’Alte there was a great battle to this side of the Castle on the slopes of the mountain, around the years of 1249 (…) in which D. Afonso was knocked off his horse by the power of the Moors and was at risk of losing his life. João Gomes, who followed him (…), committed to his defence, and had the good fortune to kill the Miramolim of the Moors, thus saving the King”.
Plus, we can find a reference to that lost castle in the toponymy: “Cerro do Castelo” (The Castle’s Hill), name to one of the four hills that surround the village, which appears in some popular verses, quoted by Isabel Raposo in the book Alte na Roda do Tempo:
Alte has four hills
Surrounding the village
Galvana and Francilheira
Castelo and Rocha Maior
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
CÂNDIDO GUERREIRO MUSEOLOGICAL POLE
THE CRAFTSMAN'S HOUSE
A visit to the Casa do Artesão (The Craftman’s House), in addition to providing good opportunities to purchase traditional items, promotes a journey into the past, looking at the tradition of esparto (needle grass). We can find articles created from this plant as well as handicrafts made of ceramics, wood and tapestry, trying to revive some ancient, abandoned occupations. It is a space dedicated to arts and crafts, where people can visit the workshops of the resident artisans, buy their products and watch the artisanal production live.
CÂNDIDO GUERREIRO LITERARY TOUR
In homage to one of the greatest Portuguese poets, born in Alte, the Cândido Guerreiro Literary Tour (Passeio Literário Cândido Guerreiro (1871-1953)) was created. The tour – which is signposted and incorporates QR Codes – is composed of seven stopping points, and it is backed up by a book and a trilingual brochure that you can find here: http://www.museudeloule.pt/pt/agenda/12323/passeio-literario-candido-guerreiro-o-poeta-de-alte.aspx
FROM HERE FEEL WHAT YOU SEE
In the mountains and in the barrocal (mid-inlands, area between the coastline and the mountains), not all points of interest are physical, seeing that nowadays the digital universe allows for possibilities that could not be explored in the past. One of those digital spots is in Alte. It is accessible from a QR Code located next to the Mother Church, sending us to an artistic video that blends singing and local heritage. The project Daqui, Sente o que Vês, promoted by the Figo Lampo Association, is also in Querença and Ameixial, drawing a poetic-visual route through various points of natural heritage and historical buildings within the barrocal and the northern Algarve. In Alte, the performance is called Canto Mulher, bringing together two women: a lyrical singer and an elderly local singer.
FESTIVALS AND RELIGIOUS CELEBRATIONS
The main annual fair takes place on September 17, in honour of São Luís and Nossa Senhora das Dores, but there are several other events that are part of the lives of the inhabitants and visitors throughout the year.
January is characterized by the traditional Encontro de Janeiras, with people singing in the streets, while going from door to door; also by the Feast in honour of São Luís. The local Carnival is quite strong in Alte, in February. In April and May, there is the Alte Cultural Week. The Holy Week, at Easter, is strongly celebrated. The 1st of May, with the influx of people to the countryside, is also one of the highlights in terms of celebrations. This is followed by the popular saints, along June, and the Folklore Festival and the Traditional Wedding Ritual Ceremony (2nd Saturday of August). Also in August, the Feast in honour of Nossa Senhora da Assunção (on the 15th). At Sarnadas, the Summer Festival takes place on the second weekend of August, followed by the Youth Festival at Monte Ruivo (3rd weekend of the month). In November, the Flea Market invites local and artisanal commerce, and, in December, the Alte Nativity Scene Tour, with several Christmas cribs, embodies the spirit of this season. Also noteworthy are the monthly markets, in Alte, on every third Thursdays of the month and, in Azinhal, on the last Saturday of each month.
Carobs, almonds, olives and figs used to be the main “characters” in agricultural production, as well as wheat and barley, along with the esparto (needle grass – good for ropes, nets and baskets). Today, agriculture mostly revolves around citrus orchards, some vegetable greenhouses and rainfed orchards which include, to great extent, the carob tree. There are some delicious local products: honey, medronho firewater and goat cheese, for instance. Production is small-scaled and, in many cases, artisanal. Therefore, of added value. Handicrafts, whether in woodwork, ceramics or basketry, are noteworthy.
Alte also benefits from the existence of a vocational school, the Escola Profissional Cândido Guerreiro, which is part of a cooperative managed by the Municipality of Loulé, the Parish Council of Alte and the In Loco Association. It aims to provide certified practical training to young people from various parts of the Algarve.
In Alte there is also a recent business incubator which is managed by QRER, the Cooperative for the Development of Low-Density Territories, which includes both a coworking room and a multipurpose room. QRER is headquartered in Querença and it also has a hub in Tôr.
Several restaurants are worth visiting, both within the village and also nearby, for example in Sarnadas. “Seek and you shall find”, said the Bible, which also applies to food… so, if you seek you will easily find places that serve codfish açorda (soaked bread) with eggs, corn “dinner” (stew) with pork, stewed chicken cabidela or even wild boar stew. Alte presents us with incredible flavoursome meals, preferably preceded by an excellent artisanal goat cheese seasoned with honey and herbs, some bread, crushed olives and seasoned carrots, accompanied by a fine glass of white or red regional wine.