The area is rich with deposits of iron, manganese and copper which attracted settlers as early as 2500 BC until the Roman occupation, and many mines were dug in order to efficiently extract the ores. The ores were smelted in the area, and then shipped down the Guadiana River which emptied into the Mediterranean. From the sea, the ores were distributed throughout the empire.
The location of Alcoutim on the Guadiana River is an important one. It is located at the point in the river where it becomes tidal. Vessels which carried the ores down the river were forced to wait for hours until the tide changed and allowed them to carry on. As a result, there was a need for structures to not only support these vessels, but also to defend them should the need arise.
With a strategic location and a wealth of ores, the town of Alcoutim changed hands many times until the 14th century when King Fernando I and King Henrique signed a peace treaty in the middle of the river across from Alcoutim. Thereafter several centuries of peace ensued until the War of the Restoration in 1640-1668. Afterwards, in the 19th century the guerrilla leader named Remexido hid from the defenders of the monarchy in the hills of Alcoutim.
Today Alcoutim is slowly emerging from a period of economic decline brought on by the area’s poor soils, the town’s distance from the coast, the Guadiana River’s lack of importance as a shipping route and the diminishing ores from the mines.
There are five parishes within the municipality of Alcoutim: Pereiro, Giхes, Martim Longo, Vacqueiros, and Alcoutim.
The church in the parish of Pereiro still stands intact from the 16th century and contains a collection of statues and retables. The houses in the area are in the traditional style of the Algarve uplands.
The parish of Giхes also has a church which dates back to the 16th century and is particularly stunning with a painted ceiling and another stunning collection of statues and retables. In addition, the area is also home to the ruins of the St. Dominic medieval hermitage.
The main church of Martim Longo was originally a mosque, and many of the original Moorish decorations still exist. This parish has several places of cultural interest including the hermitages of the Holy Spirit and St. Sebastian both which were erected in the 16th century, and the hermitage of St. Just which dates back to the late Middle Ages.
Vaqueiros’ church is small and white, and the houses nearest to it mimic the architectural style of white limestone walls.
The parish of Alcoutim is also home to Alcoutim Castle, which stands atop a hill at the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadiana Rivers. It was built in the 13th century, and today is home to a museum which showcases the history of the area and the collection of artifacts found after nearby excavations. Nearby the River Museum offers insight into the history of life on the river, including the tumultuous period of time where the town changed hands many times.
The municipality of Alcoutim is small and sleepy, but the residents are proud of their heritage and preserve their culture in many ways including the production of handicrafts such as making lace, linens and baskets among other things.