© Vasco Neves
The landscape drawn by all these historical stages is the main raw material for the museological concept currently being developed - SERPA OPEN MUSEUM - which sheds a light on the ways of life that supported the resident human communities and, with it, opens a large book on cultural history for the enjoyment and enrichment of everyone who visits us.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE TERRITORY OF THE MUNICIPALITY OF SERPA COMPRISES THREE DISTINCT LANDSCAPE UNITS
and this territory’s history derives from the uses related to each of those units. The Guadiana River, the region’s backbone, is fundamental to the economics of the lands of bread, as proven by the many watermills and by the importance of the crossing between the district capital - Beja - and Serpa and between the latter and the very old border with the kingdom of Spain. On the left bank, the rolling plains extend the good red clay farming land up to the foothills of the Ficalho mountain range, bordered to the north by pockets of iron ore and fine limestone. To the south, stretching towards the Mértola mountain range - an area that is currently part of the Vale do Guadiana Nature Park - is a land of dense undergrowth, hunting grounds and apiaries that completes this wild territory of which the "Pulo do Lobo" is the perfect symbol.
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A LAND RICH IN
The municipality of Serpa has about eight hundred known archaeological sites. The oldest vestiges range from traces of the early nomadic communities of the Palaeolithic to the first settlements born with agriculture throughout the Neolithic and the numerous traces attributed to the Metal Ages (Copper, Bronze and Iron), proof of the region’s variety of natural resources that led to the settlement of human communities long before the arrival of the Romans.
These set up the villae, farms designed to explore and enhance the endogenous resources that would, in part, survive until the end of the empire and continue to operate during the Late Antiquity, a time when the Christian church replaces Rome’s administrative power, until the arrival of the Islam, a civilization that also left lasting marks, not only in the archaeological artefacts that survived to our days but also in the toponyms and in many traditions that still persist.
With the formation of the kingdom of Portugal, the organization was functionally dependent on the military orders (the left bank of the Guadiana was administered by the Order of Avis), balanced by the municipal powers (the 1st foral [a type of charter] of Serpa was granted by King Dinis), which meant that only the coastal strip up to the Guadiana, as far as Brinches to the north and the shrublands to the south, down to the natural boundary of Pulo do Lobo, were directly administered by the “white town”. The fertile lands of Pias and the valleys of Vargo were attached to the Serpa municipality in the nineteenth century, with the liberal reform that detached them from the - at the time - vast municipality of Moura. Ficalho, the Roman "Fines", was then somewhat more distant, a watcher of the border, and was - in those times and ever since the Middle Ages - a small autonomous municipality.
In the seventeenth century, to close a gap that would allow direct attacks to Moura, a new village is founded, now known as Vila Nova (New Town) and consecrated to São Bento (Saint Benedict), with the small church that over time became what is now a magnificent temple. Thus became united the territories that fashioned this part of the municipality as it is today.
In the area of the southern border with Mértola lay the wild mountain territories, of uncertain limits, ideal pastures for the "cattle of the air" (the bees). The "malhadas" (apiaries) abounded on those hills for centuries. Wolves, bears, eagles and other birds of prey ruled over the slopes, where only the shepherds walked along trails not much wider than a man. However, to the South, the Guadiana provided – in addition to a type of fishing that used traps made from reeds, which is now banned - a line of navigation which, although requiring transhipments on some stretches, linked these inland areas to the navigation circuits that connected Mértola to the ports of the world. The devotion to Nossa Senhora de Entre-as-Vinhas, which the seafolk of this town share with the residents of Brinches, is proof of a shared daily routine in times long past, and the river would certainly be what brought them together. At the end of the nineteenth century, the uncultivated mountain lands were divided and there was an increase in arable crops and sheep herding, the sheep always appearing as the preferred animal due to its resilience to the climate and because of the milk that, for two thousand years, has been used to make the product responsible for making Serpa known far and wide: the ripened cheese (know more here). This widening of the territory brought with it olive oil (know more here) and wine (know more here), lands and these products are, nowadays, products of excellence and veritable pillars of the local economy.
At the end of the nineteenth century, there was an increase in arable crops and sheep herding, the sheep always appearing as the preferred animal due to its resilience to the climate and because of the milk that, for two thousand years, has been used to make the product responsible for making Serpa known far and wide: the ripened cheese. This widening of the territory brought with it olive oil and wine, products of excellence and veritable pillars of the local economy.