The blue ribbon of the river winding between rounded mountains covered with cistus plants. The white stain of houses rising up the slopes of hills, which form an amphitheatre, crowned with the belfries of churches and the sombre bulk of a formidable castle. The elegant silhouette of sailing boats anchored along the shore. Impressions of Alcoutim that cannot fail to charm visitors, inviting them to wander its streets or while away a peaceful hour or two on an esplanade by the water's edge.
The castle stands on an imposing site overlooking the river which archaeological digs suggest was inhabited during the Iron Age and at the beginning of the Roman occupation.
Built in the 14th century to defend the border, it was altered in the 17th century to adapt it for artillery. The broad circle of ramparts intersected with towers affords panoramic views. Inside there is a small museum which displays archaeological finds and remains of the buildings discovered during the excavations.
This is one of the best examples of early Renaissance architecture in the Algarve. Built between 1538 and 1554 on the site of a medieval church, it underwent later alterations. It has an elegant doorway surmounted by the arms of the Marquises of Vila Real and Counts of Alcoutim with the characteristic emblem of interwoven holm oak branches and the inscription “Alleo”, associated with the raising of the Moorish siege of the recently-conquered city of Ceuta by Pedro de Menezes (1418/19). Inside there are three naves and four bays. The columns are decorated with attractive Corinthian capitals. There is a chancel and side chapels with carved altarpieces. There is an interesting collection of religious statuary. In the sacristy there are three ogival window slits.
Although it has lost the ramparts that for centuries surrounded it and despite some modern additions, Alcoutim's steep and narrow streets retain much of the calm atmosphere typical of an Algarvean hill town.
A few minutes' walk is enough to discover simple single-storey houses hundreds of years old and the tall white walls of the Misericórdia (Mercy) church. To finish off, stroll down to the simple hermitage of Santo Antonio (St. Anthony), the former residence of the Counts of Alcoutim. Afterwards, enjoy a moment's rest in the company of a cool drink on an esplanade by the water's edge, and take in the sight of fishing boats returning with their catch, sailing yachts anchored in the little marina, and the Spanish foam of São Lucas do Guadiana on the far shore.
Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception)
All that remains of the Manueline church (16th century) that replaced the original Gothic structure is the doorway. The current building dates from the 18th century. An interesting Baroque stairway gives access to a spacious churchyard which offers a magnificent view over the town and the surrounding fields. Together, the limewashed walls, the round cupola of the main altar and the bell over the doorway, guarded by a storks’ nest, make up a typically Algarvean picture. The statue of Nossa Senhora da Conceição and the Baroque altarpiece (18th century) make this chapel well worth a visit. The Museum of Religious Art also operates in this church, the aim of which is to display the religious art of the municipality of Alcoutim.
An Old Moorish Settlement
Approximately 1 kilometre outside Alcoutim, across the modern bridge that spans the Cadavais river, the ruins of Castelo Velho (Old Castle) are to be found atop a hill overlooking the river, which is considered to be one of the outstanding monuments from the Islamic period in Portugal. It was a rural fortress from the Muslim period constructed to monitor navigation and the mining trade on the Guadiana river. The fortress consists of a series of walls and compartments built of schist or greywacke and it was occupied from the 8th or 9th centuries (period of the Emirate) until the 11th century (period of rule of the Taifas), at which time it was abandoned. Some of the items found on the site are on display in the Archaeological Museum in the town of Alcoutim.