In the countryside that surrounds this border town; in the Retiro Azul café, where people hang out on Sunday mornings; over the broad beans and chorizo and the Black Iberico pork cheeks in the restaurant Chaminé; in the church atrium, after the Sunday service. In Mourão, all conversation flows to the Alqueva dam. 

The biggest artificial lake in Western Europe, and something that draws many people to pass through; to the people of Mourão, the dam was a death knell for the parish: “Mourão has died since the arrival of the Alqueva dam.” 

They blame the great lake for the breakdown of local industry, for the decline of traditional and family agriculture and for the disappearance of the former village of Luz, submerged 22 years ago. Only the riverside beach, opened in 2017, softens the disappointment felt by the lack of access to water. They are stuck with an artificial barrier that promised to spur economic development here, but from which people say they can’t draw “even a drop of water”. 

Those that live here have been crushed by a fatalistic view of the future. The benefits offered by the Municipal Council—such as free activities during the school holidays or access to municipal pools for little more than a euro—aren’t enough to breathe life into a population anaesthetised by the lack of opportunities. Even the Moorish chimneys, that give Mourão a unique skyline and catch the attention of fresh eyes, are only considered a source of pride for the region as an afterthought.

Although European funds have been used to renovate public infrastructure like the cinema and theatre building and the municipal library, the European Union is time and again referred to as the public enemy. Because for those trying to earn a living, projects and promises aren’t enough. 

And in a context in which the only employers are the local landowners who “cling on”, and the Santa Casa da Misericórdia [charity supporting the needy] and Municipal Council, it is difficult to find opportunities. Everyone voices the same complaint, “We live in a land dependent on subsidies.”

Mourão had the second highest abstention rate in Portugal in the 2019 European elections. Of 1,389 voters, 1,299 didn’t vote.

Source: Secretariat General Ministry of the Interior

José Alberto, 47 years old, bricklayer
Hugo, 33 years old, social inclusion programme officer  

Is the proportion of water from the Alqueva Global System used for irrigation—this has increased 33% since 2021.

Source: EDIA 2022 Client Profile Report

João, municipal mayor
José, 68 years old, geographer
 Fábio, 34 years old, fireman

Natércia, 66 years old, retired hospital administrator

Number of people employed by Mourão municipality. This represents a third of the employees in the municipality (696).

Source: Municipal Council and Census 2021

Nearly half the inhabitants are between 20 and 60. Of these 722 people, over half are over 40 (27%).

Source: Census 2021

Cláudia, 44 years old, archaeologist

The percentage of people from Mourão with a degree is three times lower than the national average (21%).

Source: Census 2021

José, teacher
Cláudia, 44 years old, archaeologist

Mourão parish has the highest number of empty houses in the municipality—for sale, for rent, or for other reasons. One hundred and fifty-four of the 238 unoccupied abodes in the municipality are in Mourão parish.

Source: Census 2021

Hugo, 33 years old, social inclusion programme officer

Florêncio, 64 years old, bricklayer and painter

In the 2024 parliamentary elections, abstention levels in Mourão were in line with the national average (34%). Chega received the most votes (32.5%), slightly ahead of the Socialist Party (32.3%).

Source: Secretariat General Ministry of the Interior