Like all other regions in Portugal, Alentejo is also home to specific customs and traditions.
Let us start with the Alentejo traditional songs, exclusively sung by men – actually always large groups of men – holding each other shoulders or arms and gently swaying to the song’s words. These chants are based on the voice only (there is no music) and tend to be slow, slightly monotonous, yet vibrant and almost magical (surely inducing a trance if sang for very long!…). These are the chants of the Alentejo workers who, at the end of the day, thus celebrated the fields produce, work and friendship. Nowadays this tradition is almost exclusive to tourists. You may come across these groups in certain festivals or at specific tourist venues or still on villages’ streets between December and January, when the “Janeiras” (January songs) are sung.
Feasts honoring Saints, especially Our Lady, take place especially in the Summer. A renown sanctuary is the one dedicated to our Lady of Conception in Vila Viçosa. She is Portugal’s patron, protector and queen and celebrated annually on 8th December. This is a most beautiful and original tradition as Our Lady’s statue was crowned by King D. João IV in 17th century, in acknowledgment of Portugal’s separation from Spain (Portugal was in the hands of the Spanish fromn 1580 to 1640). Since then no Portuguese queen has worn the royal crown! It now belongs to Our Lady of Conception of Vila Viçosa.
Another feast we love is the “Festa do Povo” in Campo Maior. During this festival, of enormous tourist interest (more than 1 million people visited Campo Maior in 2011), the sultry Summer streets of Campo Maior, are literally lined with colourful paper flowers. Even the space between buildings, in the historical quarters, is covered with fabulous wreaths of handmade paper flowers, which women have patiently manufactured over the years.
The Wine Festival in Borba, the pine-nut festival in Alcacer do Sal, the August Musical Festival at Zambujeira do Mar, as well as many others dedicated to gastronomy, crafts and all sorts of saints invocations, are now part of a tourist route which is becoming known for its quality and authenticity.
Photo José Manuel