Querença lives right at the heart of the barrocal, but with a foot set in the mountains. Home to the largest aquifer in the Algarve, named Querença-Silves, it is impossible to talk about this parish without delving into the importance of water to its people: a subject that reflects itself in the landscape architecture, in the economy – linked to farming, gardening and growing pigs – and finally in the people’s culture:
The value of water
Pure and crystal-clear water
springs from the ground like a flower,
feeding the whole world,
let’s treat her with a lot of love.
Hortense Inácio, Cardozal, Querença
The value of water
Water is stronger than the sun
Although people say that the sun is the creator,
If there is no water at the root
Nothing, nothing opens in bloom
Albertina dos Santos, Várzeas, Querença
Querença is located approximately 11 kilometres north of the city of Loulé, the city council, and 27 kilometres from the capital of the Algarve, Faro. It occupies an area of 33.66 sq. kms and it is inhabited by around 750 people. The Union of Parishes of Querença, Tôr and Benafim has 2713 residents (2021 National Statistics). There are five hundred and fourteen legal voters in Querença. Its neighbours to the north are the parish of Salir, to the south those of S. Sebastião and S. Clemente. To the east, it borders the municipality of S. Brás de Alportel and to the west it borders the parishes of S. Sebastião and Alte.
LANDSCAPE AND NATURAL CHARACTERISTICS
Querença forms part of Natura 2000, the largest network of protected areas in the world, which includes the Fonte da Benémola Classified Site, a must-see on the walking tour map.
The valados, handmade dry-stone walls, essential to the maintenance of the landscape and the environment, are a fine expression of the harmonious relationship and interdependence between Man and the natural world.
The Mediterranean climate, classified as dry to sub-humid thermo-Mediterranean, is characterized by hot, dry summers, mild winters and irregular rainfall.
The terrain is made of sandstone and marl in the mountain range and limestone in the barrocal. The soils are stony, clayey, acidic and with steep slopes. Greywacke schist from the Carboniferous geological period can be found in this area. In the valleys and a bit further down towards the coastline, one can find rocks of dolerites from the Jurassic period, sandstone from Silves, marl from the Triassic period and alluvium of more recent origin. In the barrocal, the soils are mostly of limestone, from the Jurassic and Cretassic periods.
In the 20th century, in 1997, its area was reduced due to the institutional creation of the new Parish of Tôr. With the 2013 administrative reform, the Parish of Querença was extinguished to form a larger one, encompassing those of Tôr and Benafim: the Union of Parishes of Querença, Tôr and Benafim, of which Querença is the main one, being the headquarters.
The caves of Cerro da Corte, next to Fonte da Benémola, show the first signs of human occupation in the Neolithic period.
Traces of a tomb with archaeological materials were found inside Solestreira Maior, a cave with about 70-80 meters in length, explored by English and German researchers in the 19th century. In 1884, Portuguese archaeologist Estácio da Veiga (1828-1891) drew the attention of the international scientific community, in particular Hans Gadow, to the paleontological value of these caves: «In 1885 he [Hans Gadow] went to research Solestreira, where he found a human skeleton, beads of the so-called alaite and other objects… it is therefore proved that the cave was used as a mortuary deposit, most likely in the Neolithic period or at the time of transition from that period to the Bronze Age, in which the famous calaite (Turquoise) also appears in the Algarve in the mortuary deposits.» Gadow would publish a year later through University Press about the Querença caves. The Algarve specimens can be found at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, England.
About 30 meters to the southwest is the Solestreira Menor cave, also known as Igrejinha dos Mouros, which has several compartments and a stone vault supported by columns. In the centre, a stone about one-meter high is nicknamed Moura Encantada by the local people.
A votive hatchet in polished stone from the late Neolithic/Chalcolithic period, from the late 4th – 3rd millennium BC, was also found in the Fonte da Benémola area. The piece can be seen at the Loulé Municipal Museum.
In 1890, another copper mine was registered in Querença, tracing back to the Bronze Age, known as Vendinha do Esteval. In the region, there are traces of mining by the Romans, and a small bronze rooster from this period was found at Cerro dos Negros.
Two coins were also found in Querença testifying to the Islamic occupation.
Located in the area where the mountains meet the coast, the barrocal is distinguished by its high levels of diversity and some endemic species in mainland Portugal.
Water strikes us when we walk along the pedestrian routes along the Querença streams: Menalva, Algibre and Mercês. The Fonte Filipe and the Fonte da Benémola are other paramount references in Querença.
This natural map also includes the valleys of Mercês and Benémola and the adjacent hills, more than twenty. The Cerro dos Negros, one of the highest, overlooks the Atlantic.
Querença is also “home” to some ancient trees. There are two millenary olive trees, around 1300 years old, one located next to the Manuel Gomes Guerreiro Eco-Botanical Trail, the other next to the chapel of Nossa Senhora do Pé da Cruz.
FONTE DA BENÉMOLA AND BIODIVERSITY
The Fonte da Benémola (Benémola Spring) belongs to the Querença-Silves aquifer system, the largest in the Algarve. The karst spring (exsurgence), on the banks of the stream, is one of the main natural springs in central Algarve.
In this area we can see a section of the valley in a canyon, with deep, steep walls, cutting through old galleries opened in the limestone, and we can also find the active spring. This natural corridor includes the dyke, the levada (small water channel) and the Sítio do Olho, a spring where water flows all year round. At Sítio da Fonte da Benémola, there’s a picnic area, anticipating hikes onto softer or harder slopes, depending on the hiker.
This place is home to more than 300 species of plants. With the ideal guide, we can find fennel, good for making tea and calming our bellies, thyme perfuming the air, and the perpetual of the sands, reminding the slow pace of chameleons and the exquisite scent of curry. The Broadleaved pepper tree, rosemary and lavender. The Flax-leaved daphnes, The Gum rockroses, myrtles and strawberry trees; also, the Japanese honeysuckles and wild orchids. Last, but not the least, the trees: the European ashes, the willow trees, the African tamarisks and oleanders. The holm oak, the Hermes oak and the wild olive tree.
This site is also a sanctuary for many other animals, including more than a hundred species of birds, both resident and migratory. If you’re lucky, you will be able to observe common kingfishers, common chiffchaffs, bee-eaters, blackbirds, Eurasian blue tits, and, who knows, the largest mammal in Benémola: the otter. At night, you can come across bats that inhabit the Solestreiras caves. The caves are not open to the public.
On Saturday mornings, if you wish you can freely take part in a scientific bird ringing session. Just search on Facebook for Fonte da Benémola – Anilhagem Científica de Aves (Fonte da Benémola – Scientific Ringing of Birds) and check out when this activity takes place.
HERMITAGE OF NOSSA SENHORA DO PÉ DA CRUZ
WATER MUSEUM POLE
QRER - SERVICES COOPERATIVE
QRER, based in Querença, is a services cooperative that creates shared value from more than 20 cooperators in sparsely populated territories. It was responsible for the creation and management of the first creative incubator in the interior of the Algarve – QRIAR – which, through its qreators, aims to activate and disseminate an innovative cultural offer in the interior of the Algarve, from Loulé to Alcoutim.
QRIAR works with cultural and creative industries (ICC), from arts and crafts to sustainable architecture, from creative tourism to visual arts. It creates synergies between ICC agents and it enhances several business ecosystems, empowering entrepreneurs and new startup companies. As part of a cross-border cooperation network – Magallanes ICC Project – it is focused on the creation of an enterprise model within the Euroregion that includes the Algarve, the Alentejo and Andalusia (Spain).
MANUEL VIEGAS GUERREIRO FOUNDATION
This cultural complex was established in 2000 under the humanist and universalist values of its patron, the anthropologist Manuel Viegas Guerreiro. It aims to promote cultural, social, environmental and economic development of the Algarve in various levels. It hosts, organizes and promotes major cultural and artistic events, including the Querença International Literary Festival.
Facilities: Manuel Viegas Guerreiro Museum Library; Luís Guerreiro Centre for Algarvian Studies, specialized in the region’s history and culture; Algarvian newspapers archive; auditorium with 106 seats; Manuel Gomes Guerreiro Eco-Botanical Route, named after another “son of Querença”, a scientist and a precursor of Ecology in Portugal.
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
At the Manuel Gomes Guerreiro Eco-Botanical Route, in addition to a unique landscape as a representative sanctuary of Mediterranean flora, you can also observe a cultural piece from the Daqui, Sente o que Vês project. A QR Code totem opens the way to watch the short movie Cosmos Micro, which deals with the concepts of connection and disconnection between man and nature, through dance. The protagonists being the children who attended primary school in Querença in 2022.
In Alte and Ameixial you will find other pieces from this same project, implemented in the interior of the Algarve by the cultural association Figo Lampo, based in Querença.
FESTIVALS AND RELIGIOUS CELEBRATIONS
The tertiary sector keeps gaining scale. Agritourism, restaurants and commerce are boosting the local economy. The Ombria Resort development is the pinnacle of this economic and landscape reconfiguration, as it includes a golf course, villas, luxury apartments and a hotel.
However, agriculture still plays an important role in the daily lives of several families in Querença, linked to the production of fruit, vegetables and nuts. As a curiosity, it should be pointed out that, in the last 50 years, the vegetable gardens in this area of the edge of the mountains have been subject to the curiosity and voracity of a species of wild boar that feeds on vegetables, roots and ants.
In order to avoid the invasion of the vegetable gardens, the Associação de Caçadores de Querença (Querença Hunter’s Association) tries to seize the boars’ attention by offering them some delicacies in special places. Almost in vain, due to the high quality of the local farms content, not only of vegetables, but also of sweet acorns, a real delicacy for these wild pigs (it is uncertain whether they might be feral pigs and not actually wild boars) with light coat, longer than usual, because of the cold winters. Their silks, as described by the hunters, are sometimes so strong that the hunters knifes cannot cut through them. They weigh up to 90 kilos.
In this territory, hunters play an important role to even the balance of nature, cleaning abandoned land, rescuing species such as owls and Bonelli’s eagles, and providing water and food to wildlife.
They form part of the local dynamics, and so do the creative industries linked to handicrafts, basketry and objects made in empreita (woven palm tree leaves). In terms of food, there’s production of energy bars, chorizos, medronho firewater, honey, and high-quality fruits. Game also plays an important part in the local recipes, properly seasoned and decorated with local aromatic herbs.
Today, the identity of this territory is still created through the arts and crafts of its inhabitants, their true ambassadors.
In local handicrafts, as in other neighbouring parishes, there is still artisanal confection of lace, embroidery and trappology (tapestry with old cloths). The use of old fabrics in rugs and tablecloths levels a past of need with an upcoming future of sustainability.
Filipa Faísca, born in Borno, Querença, synthesizes the human map of the barrocal with her art of fabric dolls: representing strawberry tree pickers, reapers and spinners, boilermakers, millers, basketmakers, and many others.
One of the best local poets, she sings, tells ancient tales, holds exhibitions, speaks in public appearances and publishes books. Filipa sums it up in a poem:
Poeta (poet) has five letters
And this term has great value
It’s from the perfect words,
The biggest one on earth.
Filipa Faísca in the book Povo, povo, eu te pertenço (CML, 2000)
TWild boar stew, fried rabbit, chicken roasted stew, chicken cabidela, xerém (corn porridge). Traditional liqueurs made from local fruits, honey, herbs and medronho firewater. In terms of deserts and cakes, carob, fig and almond tartlets are a must. A special place is reserved to the Xaringos, homemade medium-sized fried biscuits made out of wheat flour and eggs, sprinkled on top with sugar and cinnamon, which are very typical from Querença.