Almendres Cromlech, Guadalupe, Evora, Portugal

Legends say mysterious women built the megaliths of Portugal

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There is another category of story where mouras appear to people as a sign of approaching death or appear to women in difficult childbirth and may even decide the outcome of the birth—whether mother and baby survive.

Mouras were also said to have lived in the world before people were made. When people appeared, the mouras acted as culture heroes, teaching people farming and animal husbandry, navigation of the sea and iron-smithing.

Rock-cut graves in Fornos de Algodres, Portugal, said to be the place where the Mouras knead bread

Rock-cut graves in Fornos de Algodres, Portugal , said to be the place where the Mouras knead bread ( Wikimedia Commons )

An example of a dolmen-builder and spinner of fates, this one from the British Isles, was Cailleach Bheara. Lindström wrote of her:

Like mouras, she is said to have been simultaneously young and old. She was often shifting her shape into a cow or a bull. Like Ishtar of Babylon and Germanic Holda she was reviving her youth by bathing every hundredth year in a certain lake. Cailleach had many lovers, and in some stories horned sons. She dominated the weather–she caused the snowfall by shaking her duvet filled with down, and raised a storm and brought on the lightnings with her hammer. Besides the weather Cailleach dominated also the seasons. The winter started and the landscape turned white when she washed her grey hood in the maelstrom of a certain fiord, and she started the spring by throwing her hammer under a holly bush. Cailleach was older than any living thing–she had created the landscape in which she lived, and could remember the time when it was different. She had also built the dolmens, and many of them are named after her. She moved also in underworld and discussed with the dead.

The megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in County Meath

The megalithic tombs at Loughcrew in County Meath are situated atop Slieve na Calliagh (meaning "the hag's mountain", referring to Cailleach) and include a kerbstone known as "the hag's chair".Cairn T on Slieve na Calliagh is a classic passage tomb, in which the rays of the equinox sunrise shine down the passageway and illuminate an inner chamber filled with megalithic stone carvings. ( Wikimedia Commons )

Lindström wrote about one more category of legend, in which mouras or The Moura “came to the area in the beginning of time and shaped it—its hills and valley and rivers, dolmens and menhir and red paintings on the rocks, and gave birth to children, who possibly became the ancestors of the community telling the legend. What was there before this? A feminine deity who was also the landscape itself, from whom the living things and to whom they returned in a cycle of life? Possibly.”

Some of the megalithic tombs were decorated with paintings and plaques.  These two anthropomorphic stone plaques are now in Portuguese museums.

Some of the megalithic tombs were decorated with paintings and plaques.  These two anthropomorphic stone plaques are now in Portuguese museums. (Photo by Henna Lindström)

Writing of the dolmens themselves,  Lindström said:

The art and symbols in Portuguese dolmens, and their orientation towards the rising sun or equinoctical full moon can be seen as telling about their faith in rebirth. The art itself can be seen as made to guide people—living, dead and unborn—to travel between worlds of living and dead. Megalithic graves were burial sites and places for ritual burials, but it is very plausible it wasn't their only and maybe not even their main function. It is likely that they were, like the churches in Christian times, spiritual centers around which the community got together celebrate important dates and happenings, to negotiate and agree about matters concerning the whole community and to strengthen their communality.

She said Christian bishops in later years banned annual celebrations around dolmens. The Church also destroyed some dolmens and declared others sacred Christian sites. Nevertheless, the legend of the Mouras have withstood the passage of time.

Featured image: Almendres Cromlech, Guadalupe, Evora, Portugal. ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller



Thank you so much for this article. It makes me want to go and research the subject more.

Mark Miller's picture

Hi Rachel. You can research it more just by reading Henna’s master’s thesis at Her thesis is more than 100 pages long and contains much more detail about mouras than I included in my article. is kind of a hard site to sign up to and navigate, but if you really want to read more, Henna's thesis is rich with detail.





Dear Frank!

At first: thank you for this interesting post, secondary apologies for my poor English..)) - I have a small problem with the followiing frase: "Carbon dating shows the people of Europe began building megalithic tombs between 4800 and 3800 BC,..."
As most of us knows, it is impossible to carbon date non-organic materials such as stones.
Organic materials found in and/or in close proximity of megaliths doesn't necesary proves that were left by those, who build the stone structures. There's no any solid scientific evidence yet whatsoever, that the mentioned megaliths were really build at the mentioned time - it is just a hypotesis based on the carbon dating.
For me it is more plausible - yes, this is still a hypotesis..)) - that there was a yet unknown "culture" who build these magnificient structures - for unknown purposes and with unknown technics.
It seem obviously that oroginally the megaliths were not used for burial or ceremonial purposes, this is why in most of the cases there was found nothing in or around the megaliths... And as time passed they just vanished in the mist of the history... Later on - around the time given by the carbon date results - new people arrived and started to use the megaliths for they own purposes: burial, sacrificial and/or ceremonial..And this is the time when the legends, the lore about megaliths born: they were made by giants, by people whit magical abilities... Of course, because the newly arrived people just coiuldn't imagine who else could be so powerfull to cut, transport (sometimes quite long distances) and finally erect those huge stones than this fantastic entities. Interesting to mention that non of the ancient people who lived around megaliths has pledged the construction of these structures. I think they would really do if this would be the case - but they pointig they finger rather to giants, magicians, faeries, elfs... mouras...))



You might be also interested in getting to know better the ancient megalithic culture in southern Portugal. We provide you with ideas for alternative tours for you to plan your own tailor-made trips to these interesting sites. Have more information at the Alternative Tours here!evora-day-tours/c1u20

Great site!


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