THE GREAT RIVER OF THE SOUTH
THIS BEAUTIFUL BODY OF WATER CROSSES THE BAIXO ALENTEJO
...and, in Serpa, presents truly extraordinary sites.
Come explore it by canoe, discover the lovely landscapes of its banks, meet the centenarian watermills and delight in the serenity of those locations.
CANOEING ALONG THE GUADIANA
This route runs along 16.5km, in an extraordinary stretch of the Guadiana located upstream of the famous Pulo do Lobo, with much calmer waters but equally amazing sites.
The serene waters of most of the route allow the time to enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the area and admire the beautiful montado (cork oak forest) landscape and some species of the rich local fauna.
The trail is calm and fluid and much of it on serene waters, with the exception of some small rapids, found mainly in the watermills’ weirs, which add emotion to the trip. With a difficulty level that does not exceed Level II, the course is accessible to inexperienced paddlers.
In order to enjoy the complete experience we suggest 3 sections, in the following order:
A - 6km » Moinhos Velhos a Ponte de Serpa (IP8).
B - 4km » Ponte de Serpa (IP8) – Moinho da Amendoeira.
C - 6,5km » Moinho da Amendoeira – Azenha da Ordem.
These sections include some sites of Level II difficulty level, which require greater caution. Check the leaflet that includes all the information needed for a good run, namely: detailed itinerary, recommendations, accessibility and contacts.
Each of these stretches has a watermill worthy of a closer look. Take the time to rest and try to picture how these incredible mills would look like when they were in operation.
THE CENTENARIAN AZENHAS OF THE GUADIANA
«Azenhas» are the old submersible watermills of the Guadiana. Their solid and robust construction was adapted to the torrential regime of floods which characterised the river at the time but disappeared with the construction of the Alqueva dam.
A recent inventory identified more than 200 watermills along the river, tributaries and sub-tributaries between the Caia and Mértola rivers, a number that clearly reflects the importance of milling in this region.
In their mechanisms, driven by water power, was ground much of the cereal produced in the vast Alentejo plains. The grinding was assured by these mills but also by steam and windmills, which worked in complementarity - as the watermills did not operate during the floods season - so that there was no lack of flour all year round.
Their appearance in the Guadiana dates back to the 13th century but it was in the 17th century that most of them were built, in order to meet the needs of a growing population.
They were owned by the Crown, by the great nobility and clergy and later by peasants, millers, and maquilões (the men who carried the flour to and from the mills).
© Vasco Neves
THEIR INGENIOUS OPERATION
Their morphology and robustness were ideal to cope with the sharp and accentuated increases of volume and strength of the flows. The curved structure was best suited to withstand the violence of the waters and immersion for long periods of time.
To each mill was associated an açude, a small weir meant to hold and channel the water to the turbines located at the base of the mill.
These turbines were moved by the force of the water and transmitted the driving force to the interior of the mill, namely to the shaft that was connected to the millstones’ system.
The gate regulated the water flow that made the turbine move and its higher or lower volume determined how many rotations were transmitted to the grinding system.
To each gate corresponded a system formed by two millstones: one fixed, called dormente (dormant), and the other movable, the so-called andante (moving).
© Vasco Neves
There were different sets of millstones for different cereals. The limestone millstones were intended for wheat and produced a whiter flour, suitable for making bread. For the corn were used granite millstones, which produced a more granulated flour used in the production of animal feed.
In the 30's of last century these watermills began to decay and in the 60’s they finally succumbed, replaced by the more efficient industrial mills.
Today they are testimonies of that traditional way of life, on which they played a major role in this region. Imagining the hustle and bustle of these places when they were in operation or picturing what the miller's day would be like are good recreation exercises. If you have the chance to talk to someone knowledgeable about the activity or to family of former millers, do so; the experience will be unforgettable.
DISCOVER THE GUADIANA BY CANOE