The Gods of Cerro de S. Miguel must be crazy

In the Algarve, only washing green

The Cerro de S. Miguel is the most visible element of the landscape of the Eastern Algarve.

It is the highest point in the Serra de Monte Figo, and it acts as the main ridge line in the local hydrographic network, distributing water on its slopes to the hydrographic basins of five important streams.

Its presence in the landscape is such that it has served, since Antiquity, as a reference to coastal shipping. It also serves as a sacred place, even, in bolder myths, being compared with Mount Olympus, the mythical abode of the Greek gods.

Well then, the gods must be crazy, to allow what is happening right at the foot of their house...

A brutal scar has been opening (and will continue) at the foot of the southern slope of Cerro de S. Miguel, abruptly interrupting the dominant landscape mosaic.

The grayish green matrix is ​​now torn by the raw earth, recently crushed and mechanically mobilized for the installation of this extensive – and perhaps intense – irrigated crop area, with planting lines neglecting contour lines and enhancing erosion.

But if the visual impact of this new wound on the landscape is shocking – not even the Via do Infante, which also passes there, reaches such magnitude in this section –, it is important to look beyond that aspect, even if it is also important.



Let's put things in perspective: this hill has always been the target of human intervention. Its slopes are punctuated by countless earth support structures and small terraces (now almost all of them abandoned), armed thanks to the stone painstakingly removed from the earth, thus conquering and creating the possible space, where there was none before.

And the purpose has always been, precisely, agriculture, an essential activity in shaping the Mediterranean character of the Algarve landscape.

An agriculture refined over centuries, fully framed in the climate, soil and water availability context – conditioned more by its uncertainty and irregularity than by its scarcity.

The rainfed orchard, more than an option, is a Mediterranean inevitability of survival. Among its fruits, the fig is past glory, which shone from a great height.

In few places like here, on this hill also commonly known as Monte Figo, because it is closely associated with the cultivation of the fig tree, which covered much of its slopes.

There are even theses that argue that it is from the fig tree that the toponymy of S. Miguel derives, since it is on its day, commemorated on September 29, that the fig harvest is concluded, and it is also from that day that it begins. the so-called “scribble”, period in which anyone can harvest, without infringing on the rights of the owners, the fruit remaining on the trees. As popular wisdom attests: “when St. Michael's Day is over, it's the fig tree for whoever wants it”.

If the hill has a history of people and land, the path to it, by any means of approximation, requires us to traverse a dense mosaic that intersperses the Mediterranean garrigue with scattered buildings, vegetable gardens with traditional dryland orchards, hedges with walls of compartmentation. There is, therefore, an ancient history of landscape here.

If there was agriculture, and agriculture is called for in the clamor for economic diversification that includes more primary sector, what sense do reservations make about agricultural initiatives?

just a spirit kamikaze transforms the call for economic diversification – which translates a very real need, as the last two months have shown and all the next will demonstrate – into a systematic investment in extensive (and eventually intensive) irrigation projects, in a region historically lacking in terms of availability of resources water.

A challenge that is aggravated in the context of climate change we are going through, and which further extremes what was already acute, in this case increasing the difficulty of restoring the availability for supply, both superficially and underground - always waiting for the generosity of the April to solve the water deficit is something that, although exciting, is not recommended.




Note that the discussion does not focus on the dramatic alteration of the landscape mosaic. The transformation of the landscape is a constant of natural and human dynamics.

Although violent, this use can even be integrated into the rural character (although this is debatable in the context of practically industrial cultures) and existing agricultural, although it sprays metrics and scale – like other interventions in this alluvial plain, clearly visible from the Cerro .

The debate is focused on the landscape aptitude for more irrigation, taking into account the known conditions. The balance between the private profits of the business, the taxes, jobs and other capital gains generated (direct and indirect) and the social, environmental and economic costs resulting from the depletion of water resources, show what the balance is. Escaping from immobility and voluntarism (both fatal), explain where we are.

We are witnessing constant and justified warnings about the need to reduce water consumption in the urban sector. However, the agricultural sector, which represents 67% of regional water consumption (compared to 21% for urban and 7% for golf), seems to have no limits, even when, on certain circuits, rationing and its political costs – because, in the end, it is what matters in the decision-making circle, even more so with local elections in the near horizon. The thing is, that even the Intermunicipal Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change, in its entirety, has dropped its arms on this chapter.

But how then can small consumers be asked to change their behavior when large consumers keep growing and growing? Is it the water version of Novo Banco?

Europe challenges us to embrace a Green Deal, through the European Green Pact. A new economy, ecologically based, respectful of endogenous resources and their limits. Well, in the Algarve, green only the washing or, eventually, the lush avocados, meanwhile included in a novel Mediterranean Diet (guacamole a la moncarapachense).

Who approves and authorizes all this? On what basis? To what extent are regional water constraints considered and considered in decision-making processes?

It was about time we were given explanations instead of crocodile tears. Unless they are used for watering…



Author Gonçalo Gomes is a landscape architect, president of the Algarve Regional Section of the Portuguese Association of Landscape Architects (APAP).
(and writes according to the old Spelling Agreement)