Vila Fortificada de Almeida
French Military engineers: Pierre Gilles de Saint-Paul (active: c.1641–1651), Pierre Garsin (active: 1645–1646); Portuguese military engineer João Saldanha e Sousa, (active: c.1641–1650); Portuguese contractor: David Álvares; Portuguese military engineer: Miguel Luis Jacob (1762)
King João IV (1604–1656; r. 1640–1656). Royal Household: “Junta da Fortificação” (1641); D. Álvaro de Abranches
Construction of Almeida Fortress was part of the national plan to protect the kingdom, conceived and partially executed during the reign of King João IV within the context of the so called Restoration Wars against Spain.
As soon as Portugal recovered its independence from Spanish rule on 1 December 1640, the Portuguese began preparations in readiness for Spanish retaliation. The decision was made to strengthen the Portuguese borders, a project that was completed in around 1680.
The strength of the fortress would be tested with the Seven Years War and General O'Reilly's siege. It was already in need of restoration in 1810, during the Napoleonic Wars; then the fortress was conquered by Massena, and later by Anglo-Portuguese troops under the command of Lord Wellington. The French siege saw the demise of the magazine, totally destroying the Manueline castle.
Built on a gently sloping area, the fortress is a colossal stone shield whose frontage is faced by an advance line of stone defence walls combined with earthworks. It is built on an almost regular hexagonal shaped plan. In the angles of the hexagon are the bulwarks or bastions distributed radially to command manoeuvres of a characteristic “diamond” shape. A remarkable engineering masterpiece, their scale is enhanced by the great depth of the moat surrounding them as well as the outside slope or glacis in front of the curtain walls. When under siege, the fortress' facilities provided long-standing autonomy, beside the vaulted subterranean rooms, therefore, are the former Hospital of the Blood, the powder-magazine and the casemates for the soldiers.
The fortress is composed of six bulwarks: St. António for 18 cannons; St. Pedro for 10 cannons, and an earth covered powder-magazine; St. Francisco; S. João de Deus for 28 cannons, and casemates; St Barbara (patron saint of artillery soldiers) for 23 cannons, and a powder-magazine; the Chapel of St. Barbara, extant; the Bulwark of Nossa Senhora de Brotas for 13 cannons, which includes the riding school, known as the Trem or “Carriage” building. There are three posterns for strictly military purposes as well. The fortress has two gates: the Gate of St. Francis (or of the Holy Cross) and the Gate of St. António.
Almeida Fortress is a large military fortification conceived to endure artillery attacks. It has a star-shaped ground plan with six main bastions, and the citadel is entirely surrounded by a wall.
Historical evidence and stylistic analysis
Attributed to Pierre Garsin
Main entrance following the designs of Salomon de Brosse.
Attributed to Pierre Garsin
Gates designed in the Classical style of French military architecture.
Pierre Gilles de Saint-Paul
Besides its military efficiency, the large earthworks and buildings were important to social cohesion. The bulk of the architecture was a rhetorical statement that the country could face any menace from foreign armies. The fortification was, therefore built both symbolically and practically to discourage further enemy actions.
Inside the walls
Pierre Gilles de Saint-Paul,Manuel de Azevedo Fortes and others
A row of buildings to accommodate military casemates. Eighteen of the twenty underground rooms have ventilation, access to a well, a water mine and a water-drainage system. In case of attack, the townspeople would seek refuge in the underground rooms, which also served as military lodgings, a warehouse and even as hospital in critical periods.
Pimentel, L. Serrão, Methodo Lusitanico de Desenhar as Fortificaçoens das Praças Regulares & Irregulares, Lisbon, 1680, p. 318.
Manuel de Azevedo, O Engenheiro Portuguez…, Lisbon, 1729, Vol.II, p. 292.
Gomes, R. Costa, Castelos da Raia. Beira, Vol. I, Lisbon, 1997.
Moreira, R., “Do Rigor Teórico à Urgência Prática: a Arquitectura Militar” in História da Arte em Portugal, O Limiar do Barroco (ed. Carlos Moura), Lisbon, 1986;
Valla, M., O Papel dos Arquitectos e Engenheiros – Militares na Transmissão das Formas Urbanas Portuguesas, presented at the 4th Congress Luso-Afro-Brasileiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1996, in “Revista Urbanismo”, Vol. I.
Campos, J., Almeida Gates and Posterns of the Fortress, Câmara Municipal de Almeida, 2007.
Paulo Pereira "Almeida Fortress" in "Discover Baroque Art", Museum With No Frontiers, 2018. http://www.discoverbaroqueart.org/database_item.php?id=monument;BAR;pt;Mon11;34;en
Prepared by: Paulo PereiraPaulo Pereira
AFFILIATION Faculty of Architecture, Technical University of Lisbon
TITLE: University Lecturer
Paulo Pereira holds an MA in Cultural Studies and has been a speaker at numerous seminars and congresses in Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, the United States and Brazil. Paulo has co-ordinated and published books about Portuguese art and history, some of which are award winning. He is curator of several exhibitions held in Portugal, Ghent, Brussels and Berlin and been a contributing author for several exhibition catalogues. He has exercised managerial roles within the Town Hall of Lisbon, was Vice President of the Portuguese Heritage Institute (IGESPAR) and is a lecturer at the Technical University of Lisbon (Faculty of Architecture).
Translation by: Cristina CorreiaCristina Correia
AFFILIATION: Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon and MWNF
TITLE: Senior Teacher, Local Co-ordinator and Vice-President of MWNF
Cristina Correia is a History graduate and, since 1985, a Senior Teacher of History at the Eça de Queirós Public High School, Lisbon where she also lectures in Portuguese Language and Culture for non-native speakers. From 1987 to 1998 she was involved with youth affairs, primary prevention and the Camões Institute. She is Vice-President and Local Co-ordinator (Portugal) for MWNF., Manuel Silva Pereira
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: PT 34
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