Description - This is easily the largest passage-mound in all of Portugal and, apart from the Irish passage-mounds such as Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, is also one of the the largest in Europe.
Although the internal design of the passage and raised chamber conforms to the traditional shape of other passage mounds across western Europe, Zambujeiro is the only example where the internal walls have been fashioned from large upright stones. Elsewhere in Portugal, the same basic design has been used for the construction of numerous 'antas', although they were all apparently only covered over with half mounds, leaving the upper parts protruding with the appearance of a dolmen.
The site is free entry and is accessed by a track and then by foot for the last 100 metres.
There are several large stones lying around the site which look as though they were left in a state of semi-readiness. One of the most impressive discarded stones is the 'leaf' shaped stone in front of the monument on the right-hand side of the entrance (see below). This stone has the appearance of having been left half finished (it is possible to discern a marked area of stone which may have been intended for cutting) although it is also just as likely that we see it today as it was originally intended.
On the left hand side of the entrance (see left) lies a large (1.5m x 2m), flat topped stone with a large, single cup-mark in the centre of it. The position of these two prominent stones on either side of the entrance gives the site a sense of importance, before even bearing witness to the eight giants that form the walls of the inside chamber.
A little further to the left of the large up-marked stone lies an even larger stone with numerous smaller cup-marks on its upper surface (suggesting, as with the other cup-marked stone, that they have always been in the positions we see them today).
The Mound - The mound itself is 50m in diameter and around 7-8m high.
It is composed of rubble packing-stones of varying sizes and has been severely excavated in the past. The round shape of the mound is easily defined, except at the front which has lost all vestige of any original appearance. If the two large stones to the left and right of the passage entry were outside originally, then we can assume that it was never completely round at the front as they lie within the perimeter of the diameter.
The Passage - The passage is composed of several stones on either side, which appear to have been shaped along their tops in readiness to recieve other stones. There are no visible markings on any of the stones. The floor of the passage has a rock feature, which appears to have been intentionally carved, although it is possible that this too is still in its original form. The passage has a slight bend along its length, a feature discussed below.
The stone pillar inside does not appear structural and is similar to the one found in Bryn Celli Ddu, in Wales.
The chamber - The chamber is huge and cathedral-like from inside, and would have been more spectacular with the capstone in place. It is composed of 8 mauled granite stones, all 6-8m in height (above ground), with the largest at the rear almost 4m wide. There is no sign of carvings on any of them (except modern graffiti), and they all lean inwards, pressing against each other and sharing the load of the surrounding mound. A feature similar to many Portuguese passage mounds and dolmens.
Cope (1) mentions that excavators found 'callis beads, decorated schist plaques, flint and stone tools, pottery and a stone-axe', with mention of any skeletons notoriously absent..
The Cap-stone - The cap-stone to the chamber is around a half metre thick and lies on the top of the mound, behind the main chamber. It is broken into several pieces, and in its original state would have weighed several tons. It has the appearance of having either been slid off or having almost made it into place, before being broken (struck by lightning?).
Astronomy - The passage has a slight curve along its length, a feature which is more easily discernable at Newgrange, where it was used to restrict the entry of sunlight to the inner chamber. There are two standing stones in the passage which may have been originally part of the support, but are suspiciously placed as if to control the entry of sunlight to the chamber. The whole mound faces 20° off true East (a feature noticeable at the other two passage mounds (Anta de San Gens, and Anta do Tapadao) in the Alentejo, both of which also show the same gigantic stone work, although neither on the scale of Zambujeiro.
The placement of Zambujeiro itself has been suggested to have been deliberate, being placed in alignment between the Almendres and Zarez 'cromeleques. The orientation of Zambujeiro therefore comes as no surprise, simultaneously facing the direction of the Xarez monument and the spring full moon (110°).
(Click here more about Xarez)
(This site is an absolute must for all lovers of megaliths...)
An image from 1971. The year of restoration. The site has detereorated considerably since then.