- By Super User
De Guadiana route
Elvas - Senhora da Ajuda - River Guadiana - Elvas
The River Guadiana, which the Arabs called Uadia Ana, rises in Spain, in the province of Ciudad Real, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean between Ayamonte and Vila Real de Santo Antonio. In the 260 km of its course in Portugal, it demarcates the frontier in two distinct sections: from the confluence with the River Caia to Monsaraz, and, further south, from Pomarao to the sea. Navigable as far as Mértola, it is, upstream, a river with two characteristics: slow and bucolic where it is broad, rapid and rough where it narrows and forces its way through banks that are high and rocky. Human presence is widely in evidence, and it offers a wide range of trips into the past, going back in time as far as the Paleolithic period. On this tour we will discover a region of schist where the historic Ponte da Ajuda (“Bridge of Help”) rises high, in former times linking Elvas and Olivença, today twinned towns.
Furnish yourself with a good Alentejan packed lunch, and set off along the Quinta towards Spain. Turn to the left and the landscape becomes progressively more open, dotted with rows of the houses of some of the large montes that cling to the hilltops, as is the case of the Monte do Falcato, which rises up on the left-hand side of the road. We are on the extreme edge of the irrigation system of the Caia, a rectangular boundary that contains the plains of the Caia and the Guadiana as far as the dam, a distance of about 30 km in length. Continuing for about one kilometre, which takes us above the river Varche, a tributary of the Guadiana, we arrive at the hermitage of Na Sa da Ajuda (“Our Lady of Help”), a small-church with all the characteristics of rural Alentejan religious architecture: the porch of the protection and the shade of the pilgrims, the interior composed only of a nave, and a high altar covered by a vaulted cupola. Close to the Crossroads there is a stone commemorating the twining of Elvas Olivença. In front flows the great river of the south, which is crossed by the Ponte da Ajuda. Built in the 16th century, and in spite of the sorry destruction which it fell victim to during the Peninsular Wars, it still, today, reveals its grandeur.
The carriageway, 400 metres in length and 5.5 metres in width, is supported by 19 robust semi-circular arches. In the centre rises a three-storeyed fortified tower with windows and embrasures, protected by two gateways. The access roads to the river offer different angles from which the bridge can be viewed, and invite the visitor, on foot or on bicycle, to explore the river banks where, two or three centuries ago, human ingenuity spared no effort in the construction of weirs and water-mills. Unused today, they constitute an interesting museum of Industrial archaeology and, although some are now no more than ruins and relics, they continue to confer a strange beauty to the parts of the river where they are set. Go down to the bridge, explore it with the care that the carriageway, pitted with enormous holes, demands, and pause to allow yourself to breathe the pure air of these parts, before passing on to discover the water-mills.
A little more than one kilometre further upstream you will find the Hamlet of Venda and the Safra water-mill and, 400 metres further, two more structures that form part of the same complex. This is the area where the Rivers Varche and Olivença join the Guadiana. About 2.5 km downstream you will meet the beautiful mills of S.Rafael. The enchantment of both places is well worth the walk or the cycle ride. Anyone travelling by four-wheel drive has here the opportunity to contribute something to the land by not forgetting two fundamental principles of touring in the countryside: not to leave the track, and to close every gate they open, their function being not to impede access, but to contain the herds which graze in the area.
Spend a pleasant day in the countryside, and return to Elvas by the same route.