Arraiolos

Arraiolos, dominated by the ruins of a once-mighty walled fortress, is a typical hilltop Alentejo village of whitewashed houses and narrow streets. What distinguishes it is its worldwide reputation as a carpet-producing center. In the 16th century, as Portuguese trade with the East grew, an interest developed in the intricate designs of the carpets from India and Persia, and these patterns served as models for the earliest hand-embroidered Arraiolos carpets. The colorful rugs aren't mass-produced in factories but are handmade by locals in their homes and cottages. An authentic Arraiolos rug, made of locally produced wool, has some 4,000 ties per square foot. To discourage imitations, in 1992 the town council designed a blue seal of authenticity to be affixed to each carpet.

While Arraiolos lacks official tourist attractions, the highlight of any visit here is an afternoon spent browsing its tiny carpet shops, where you can see locals weaving and stitching the fine tapestries by hand.

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