Old Castle of Alcoutim

The “Old” Castle of Alcoutim is located about one kilometre north of the town on a hill overlooking the River Guadiana; it stands on an extension of the Mértola-Pomarão geological formation, in the middle of the Falha do Brejo (Brejo Fault), where there are phyllite-quartzite areas and areas of the volcanic-sedimentary complex.

The excavations carried out by Professor Helena Catarino in this fortification revealed several phases of occupation, mainly between the 8th/9th centuries and the 12th/13th centuries; however, there may have been earlier phases during late antiquity/the Visigoth era. The topography of the site shows three lines of walls, two defined by the excavations, and a third line on the lower platform that can only be discerned from the earth embankments. The two walled enclosures that were identified are rectangular in plan, with a regular rectilinear outline, and end at the steepest slope of the hill, facing south towards Barranco and Cerro da Mina.

On the hilltop stands the upper fort, which would have been the main fortress, whose walls are defended by solid towers that are rectangular and quadrangular in plan. The entrance, at the south-eastern angle, faces the Guadiana and was initially defended by a tower, which was later remodelled to form a large tower with an L-shaped plan, in order to form an exterior dog-leg. Entry was gained via a corridor along a ramp, with a small atrium in the middle which was used as the armoury. On the inside, three patios were identified, as well as a cistern, streets and a group of houses: kitchens with fireplaces, two rooms that could have been stores, and small rooms that would have been bedrooms.

The second line of walls creates a rectangular space enclosing the slopes of the hill, with the southern stretch of wall partially under the wall of the fortress which stands above. The walls are to a large extent in ruins, but there are still some quadrangular towers on the northern and southern sides. The gate is located on the slope facing the Guadiana and was at first protected by two lateral towers, to which a rampart was added to create a dog-leg entrance. An isolated building – a small mosque – can be seen on the right-hand side of the entrance, standing on top of earlier buildings, and other houses stand along the northern wall where a number of reconstructions have been carried out.

Since 2016, the castle has been part of the “Umayyad Route”, which showcases the legacy of the Arab Umayyad dynasty (711 to 1031 A.D.) in seven countries connected to the Mediterranean: Italy, Tunisia, Egypt. Jordan, Lebanon. Spain (Andalusia) and Portugal (Algarve).

The site complements a visit to the Archaeology Museum Centre (exhibition “Timeless Games”) and it can be accessed and visited freely; however, guided tours for groups can also be arranged by submitting a request to the municipality in advance.

Find out more at http://umayyad.eu