The pleasantly provincial town of MOURA, 50km south of Monsaraz, is a surprisingly opulent place full of grand mansions, pretty squares and pedestrianized shopping streets. It’s also the closest town to the controversial Alqueva dam. The Moors occupied the town from the eighth century until 1232 – an Arabic well still survives in the old town – and Moura is named after a Moorish maiden, Moura Saluquia, who ostensibly threw herself from the castle tower in despair when Christians murdered her betrothed and overran the town. But it was the discovery of naturally carbonated thermal springs in the late nineteenth century that prompted Moura’s eventual prosperity. The spa water still dribbles from the Fonte das Três Bicas (Fountain of Three Spouts), but the spa no longer operates. Nevertheless, the adjacent Jardim Doutor Santiago gardens make a very pleasant place to stroll, with lots of shady trees.
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The Barragem de Alqueva
The Barragem de Alqueva
In February 2002 the floodgates opened on the controversial Barragem de Alqueva (Alqueva Dam), filled by the waters of the Rio Gaudiana and several tributaries. At 250 square kilometres (of which 69 square kilometres are in Spain), it’s Europe’s largest reservoir. Plans for the project started decades ago under the Salazar regime, with the aim of providing reliable irrigation in this arid region and jobs in the agricultural and tourism industries. There are many who still lament the destruction of over a million oak and cork trees in its construction and the resulting threats to the habitats of golden eagles and the even rarer Iberian lynx, plus the submerging of over 200 prehistoric sites. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the former village of Luz on the east bank of the Guadiana, now submerged, were relocated to a facsimile village above the waterline which, despite similarities of appearance, has become something of a failed experiment; the younger villagers having left and the older ones are deeply dissatisfied.
The government points to the benefits of the dam, not least the hydroelectric plant, switched on in 2004, which provides enough electricity to supply the Évora and Beja districts combined. Smooth new roads also now radiate from the dam, which has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right, the deep waters lapping on one side, a sheer drop on the other. A little beyond the car park by the dam is a Centro de Informação which details how the dam was built and how it powers the area, as well as providing information on boat trips you can take on the waters themselves.