Category Archives: Bridges

A bridge over the Douro River: a failed project

In 1179, the first king of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, stipulated the delivery of 300 modios morabitinos for the “Ponti Dorii”, launching the project to build a bridge over the River Douro. The remains of this bridge were still visible in the 16th century when Rui Fernandes wrote his manuscript entitled “Descrição do terreno ao redor de Lamego duas léguas [ 1531-1532 ]“, currently in the Municipal Library of Porto, which reads:

Item between this ferryboat of Bernaldo, and that of Porto de Rey are some fine pillars of a bridge that the Queen Donna Mafalda say she ordered to be made, which are two in the middle of the Douro of very great height, and very wide foundation, that the two that are in the river, in this month of May will be ten palms uncovered, and in the summer will be twenty palms and more, and there are two others outside, one on this side, and another on the other side. These pillars have already been doubled in height, and they broke them down and make fishing grounds out of them” (translation of ms. 547, fl 9).

The pillars of the old bridge were therefore still very visible in his time, although they had already been heavily collapsed: “The arch on one side has already collapsed. There is much broken stone on the hill, and you will find on the hills many mason stone tools, and wedges, and levers, which were left there” (fl. 9).

He also calls for taxes to be levied on the neighboring villages in order to complete the work, “because the majority of it has been done” and because there was still a lot of “broken stone” ready to be used to complete the work:

“Our Lord the King could very well order this half bridge to be built with the payment of two reis to each inhabitant twenty leagues around, and in six or seven years, or less, it could be done without oppression, and it would be a very noble thing” (fl. 9).

However, the work would never be finalized and what remains of these pillars were submerged after the construction of the Carrapatelo dam in 1972, but there are reports from that time mentioning the remains of one of the pillars in the riverbed (Resende. 2014: 423).

Moreover, we have precise information from the fifteenth-century author about its location when he writes that “this work is below a place, that they call Barqueiros moreover that they call Barrô” (fl.  9v), about 18 km from Porto Manso (“from Peares to Porto Manço there are three leagues“, fl. 10), which allows us to estimate its approximate location in the meander of the river between Barqueiros and Barrô, where the riverbanks are narrower (see image).

Approximate location of the Dona Mafalda Bridge, between Barqueiros and Barrô, upstream of the Porto de Rei ferry (over Google Earth image)

Although Rui Fernandes alludes to the legend of the death of the queen’s son when trying to cross the bridge, justifying this way the abandonment of its construction, we cannot exclude the hypothesis that it was finished and that its destruction was later, possibly due to a flood of the river, not least because the chosen location does not seem to be the most suitable for the construction of a bridge, the Douro being such a tumultuous river, and even less so the accesses to the bridge that would have to overcome the steep cliffs from this location.

In his “Elucidário…”, Friar Rosa Viterbo seems to follow this line by referring to documents from the Salzedas Monastery of 1205 containing the will of Dona Sancha Bermudes where it says that she had an estate “at the Douro Bridge”, as well as in another document from 1216, where she donates to the Monastery of Paço de Sousa everything she owned in Barrô and “near the Douro Bridge” (Viterbo, 1799: 227). Thus, it is possible that the bridge was still operational in that period, as Viterbo suggests, serving as an alternative to crossing the Douro at Porto de Rei from the road that connected Marco de Canaveses to Lamego (see https://viasromanas.pt/index.html#porto_de_rei_lamego).

The route from Porto de Rei to Lamego (green) and its variant passing on the Dona Mafalda Bridge (blue)

What is certain is that the dream of building a bridge over the Douro River ended in ruin, and until the 19th century all crossings of the river were provided by ferries. The medieval Douro bridge was a failed project whose implications were felt for many years, and even today there is stil no bridge in the stetch of the river between Régua and Resende, and the new Ermida Bridge, near the latter, was only inaugurated in 1998!

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Bibliography
FERNANDES, Rui (1531-1532) – “Descrição do terreno ao redor de Lamego duas léguas [ 1531-1532 ]“. Caleidoscopio, Ed. Amândio Barros (2012).
RESENDE, Nuno (2008) – “Ponte da Veiga: Lousada“. In ROSAS, Lúcia, coord. cient. – Rota do Românico, 2014. Vol. 2, 419-431.
VITERBO, Frei Joaquim de Santa Rosa de (1799) – “Elucidário das Palavras Termos e Frases”(…). Lisboa: Typographia Regia Silviana (1º Edição), vol. 2.

Ponte do Douro: um projecto falhado

Em 1179, o primeiro rei de Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques estipulou a entrega de “300 modios morabitinos para a ponti Dorii”, lançando o projecto de construção de uma ponte sobre o rio Douro. Os restos dessa ponte eram ainda visíveis no século XVI quando Rui Fernandes elabora o seu manuscrito intitulado “Descrição do terreno ao redor de Lamego duas léguas [ 1531-1532 ]“, actualmente na Biblioteca Municipal do Porto, onde se lê:

Item entre esta barca do Bernaldo, e a de Porto de Rey estão huns fermozos peares de hua ponte que a Rainha Donna Mafalda dizem que mandava fazer os quais sam dois no meyo do Douro de muito grande altura, e mui largo fundamento, que os dous que estão no rio, neste mes de Mayo hirão bem dez palmos descobertos, e no Verão hirão bem vinte palmos e mais, e estão outros dous de fora hum da parte daquem, e outro da parte dalem. Estes poyares foram já de dobrada altura, e os derribarão, e fizerão delles pesqueiras” (ms. 547, fl. 9).

Estes “peares”, ou seja os pilares da antiga ponte estavam portanto ainda bem visíveis no seu tempo, embora já muito derrubados: “O arco da parte daquem volvia já. Esta hi muita pedra quebrada polo monte, que ficou quebrada, e acharão ainda polos montes muitas marras, e cunhas, e lavancas, que por hi ficarão” (fl. 9).

Apela também para que se lance impostos sobre as povoações vizinhas de modo a concluir a obra, “porque a mor parte hé feito” e porque ainda existia ali muita “pedra quebrada” pronta a usar na finalização da obra:

El Rey nosso senhor podia mui bem mandar fazer esta meya ponte que esta por fazer com deitar des reis a cada morador vinte legoas arredor, e em seis, ou sete annos, ou em menos se podia fazer sem opressão, e seria hua couza mui nobre” (fl. 9).

No entanto, a obra jamais sería concluída e o que resta desses pilares ficou submerso após a construção da barragem do Carrapatelo em 1972, mas há relatos dessa época onde se referem os restos de um dos pilares no leito do rio (Resende. 2014: 423).

Apesar disso, temos informações precisas do autor quinhentista sobre a sua localização ao escrever que “esta obra esta abaixo de hum lugar, que chamão Barqueiros aliás que chamão Barrô” (fl. 9v), a cerca de 18 km de Porto Manso (“des os Peares ate Porto Manço que são tres legoas“, fl. 10), o que permite estimar a sua localização aproximada no meandro do rio entre Barqueiros e Barrô, onde a proximidade entre margens é menor (ver imagem).

Localização aproximada da Ponte de Dona Mafalda, entre Barqueiros e Barrô, a montante da Barca de Porto de Rei (sobre imagem Google Earth)

Apesar de Rui Fernandes aludir à lenda da morte do filho da rainha neste mesmo local para justificar o abandono da sua construção, não podemos excluir a hipótese de a mesma ter sido finalizada e que a sua destruição seja posterior, eventualmente devido a uma cheia do rio, até por que o local escolhido não parece ser o mais indicado para a construção de uma ponte, sendo o Douro um rio tão tumultuoso, e menos ainda os acessos à ponte que teriam de vencer as íngremes arribas desde local.

No seu “Elucidário…”, o frei Rosa Viterbo parece seguir esta linha ao referir documentos do Mosteiro de Salzedas do 1205 contendo o testamento de Dona Sancha Bermudes onde diz que esta tinha uma herdade “à Ponte do Douro”, assim como em outro documento de 1216, onde faz a doação ao Mosteiro de Paço de Sousa do tudo o que detinha em Barrô e “junto da Ponte do Douro” (Viterbo, 1799: 227). Deste modo, é possível que a ponte estivesse operacional nesse período, como sugere Viterbo, servindo como alternativa à travessia do Douro em Porto de Rei da estrada que ligava Marco de Canaveses a Lamego (ver https://viasromanas.pt/index.html#porto_de_rei_lamego).

A via de Porto de Rei a Lamego (verde) e a variante pela Ponte de Dona Mafalda (azul)

Certo é que o sonho de construir uma ponte sobre o rio Douro acabou em ruína e até ao século XIX todas as travessias do rio foram asseguradas por barcas de passagem. A ponte medieval do Douro foi um projecto falhado cujas implicações fizeram-se sentir por muitos e longos anos, e ainda hoje não existe qualquer ponte a ligar as duas margens no trecho entre a Régua e Resende, e mesmo a Ponte da Ermida, junto a esta última povoação, apenas foi inaugurada quando decorria já o ano de 1998!

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Bibliografia
FERNANDES, Rui (1531-1532) – “Descrição do terreno ao redor de Lamego duas léguas [ 1531-1532 ]“. Caleidoscopio, Ed. Amândio Barros (2012).
RESENDE, Nuno (2008) – “Ponte da Veiga: Lousada“. In ROSAS, Lúcia, coord. cient. – Rota do Românico, 2014. Vol. 2, 419-431.
VITERBO, Frei Joaquim de Santa Rosa de (1799) – “Elucidário das Palavras Termos e Frases”(…). Lisboa: Typographia Regia Silviana (1º Edição), vol. 2.


Roman bridge in Torre de Dona Chama

An initiative of the “Dona Flâmula”, an association for the protection of the heritage of Torre de Dona Chama, in collaboration with the Freguesia of Torre de Dona Chama and the Municipality of Mirandela, the Roman bridge over the Tuela River has finally now an informative plaque (since June 2020) describing the importance of the almost forgotten National Monument. Here are some photos kindly sent by António Reimão.

This bridge also known as “Ponte da Pedra” is one the best preserved Roman bridges in the Portuguese territory and it still use today by the national road EN 206 (!).

Ficheiro:Ponte Torre Dona Chama Vista jusante margem direita.jpg
View o the arches
The holes to grab and place stones using a forfex.

The Roman bridge of Campelos

(Originally published on January 12, 2015)

The Roman Bridge of Campelos over the Ave River is located northwest of Guimarães and connects the parishes of Vila Nova de Sande and Silvares in Guimarães and was part of the Roman road from Bracara Augusta towards Mérida ignoring Guimarães, since this city was only founded a long time later in the year 950 at the initiative of the Countess D. Mumadona Dias. Despite the successive repairs, the bridge’s structure still shows undoubted Roman characteristics with the typical perfect arched padded apparatus, presenting the typical robustness of the great works of that time; At least the northernmost arc does not look like reconstruction and allows to estimate its original configuration. The Roman road to Mérida certainly passed this crossing of the Ave and not upstream in the bridge of Caldas das Taipas, despite being “converted” into the “Camino de Santiago”; in fact there are clear references to this bridge in a document from the year 957 (PMH DC 71 ) and another from 1059
(PMH DC 420) as the “ponte petrina” (‘stone bridge’), showing that at that time the crossing was made on this bridge. After crossing the river, the road forked in 3 possible routes, the Roman Bridge of Negrelos towards Cale, the Roman Bridge of Arco de Vila Fria towards Tongobriga and the Roman Bridge of Vizela towards Meinedo and from here to the Douro river. The bridge was rehabilitated in 2015 to construct a pedestrian crossing, but its Roman origin remains ignored and so only few people notice that it is one of the best preserved Roman bridges in the entire Minho region and one of most important in Portugal. The bridge remains perfectly functional and still supports heavy road traffic from the industrial periphery of Guimarães, including heavy vehicles. Both the monument and the site deserve further attention. Coordinates: 41.462051, -8.345495
View in Google Street View

vide route here – https://viasromanas.pt/#braga_guimaraes

The Roman bridge of Segura by Duarte d´Armas

(Originally published on January 12, 2015)

In 1509, King Manuel I commissioned his squire Duarte d’Armas to survey the state of 56 border fortifications in the kingdom, a work that was to be completed in 1510 and which resulted in a manuscript known as the “Book of Fortresses” (“Livro das Fortalezas”). This work shows illustrations of the main castles that defended the integrity of the national territory. In the illustration referring to the Castle of Segura, Duarte d’Armas represented the old Roman bridge over the Erges river in detail showing the semi-destroyed central arch, clearly showing that the bridge was unusable in the 16th century. This arch was later repaired and still today we can see a larger central arch much bigger that the rest. It is the oldest known representation of this important Roman work (so forgotten in current tourist itineraries) and therefore a document of the utmost importance. Coordinates: 39.817403, -6.981816

Images from the book “Castelos Templários Raianos: Castelos de Portugal”. Templar Days of Penha Garcia, August 2013. Authoring and Coordination: Colonel Dr. António Pires Nunes.
Edition: Câmara Municipal de Idanha-a-Nova

The Roman bridge of Salamanca

(Originally published on September 13, 2013)

Some pictures recently taken of this monumental structure with 26 arches of which only the 15 date from Roman times. Salamanca’s Roman Bridge is one of the best preserved in the Iberian Peninsula. It was built in the first century AD and integrated the famous route between Emerita and Asturica, commonly known as «Via de la Plata». The monument highlights all the principles of Roman engineering for bridge construction, such as modularity; it’s 6 m wide allowing two-way traffic; holes on the borders allowed rainwater to flow out of the bridge. The ashlars have the typical forfex marks, demonstrating the use of mechanical tools for their positioning of the granite which by way was extracted 75 km from here (!), in the quarries of «Los Santos» close to Béjar.

The Roman bridge of Barreiros

(Originally published on September 12, 2013)

«Ponte de Barreiros», also known as «Ponte da Azenha» or «Ponte de Ronfes» is a bridge over the Leça River between Araújo and Maia, next to the National road EN13; This bridge was part of an old route linking Cale (Porto) to Limia (today Ponte de Lima) crossing the Cávado river in Barcelos, referred as “karraria antiqua” in medieval documents. The way is much older though with many pre-Roman settlements scattered along the way. It takes advantage of the natural corridors that exist between the rivers Douro and Lima and became a secondary road on the Roman network as no milestones were found on this route. The possible explanation for this could be in the fact that it misses the regional capital Bracara Augusta, the focal point for all main routes of the region back then. In medieval times became a major route to Santiago de Compostela and is still today the main way followed by pilgrims. Despite the rampant urbanisation It’s still possible to follow long sections the old way. The bridge suffered several reconstructions and repairs until reaching its present configuration, but the integration of some
cushioned ashlars in the arch staves on the right bank (visible in the photo) proves the reuse of materials from the previous Roman bridge. Coordinates:  41.224711,  -8.631817

Roçadas bridge

(Originally published on March 16, 2012)

This bridge is located in the place of Roçadas in Argoncilhe (Santa Maria da Feira). It was probably on the route connecting Cale (Porto) to Vissaium (Viseu). its present form is a rough construction not that all, but given its integration in this ancient path, it origins could be much older. An old section of the road can still be seem next to the bridge. Coordinates: 41.025388, -8.520372

vide route here – http://viasromanas.pt/#porto_viseu

The ancient bridge over the Vouga river

(Originally published on December 5, 2011)

The fall of the Vouga Bridge on November 12 2011 was not a surprise due to the advanced state of degradation of the bridge’s pillars. What is surprising is the willingness of the municipality to demolish the bridge (!), a decision that I hope will be overturned because this bridge has a great patrimonial value that cannot be obliterated. The current bridge is the result of successive repairs, the last one was its enlargement in the 1930s to adapt it to modern traffic. We know that its construction was ordered by D. João III in 1529 and that it was repaired in 1713 by order of D. João V given to the bridge its current configuration. In fact the current bridge was built on the structure of an earlier medieval bridge from which the pillars and arches are still visible, as can be seen in the picture above. Coordinates: 40.640735,-8.465931

The existence here of an early Roman construction is plausible because this was the crossing point of the main road connecting Bracara Augusta (Braga) to Olisipo (Lisbon). In fact, on a hilltop overlooking this passage there’s an important archaeological site known as «Cabeço do Vouga» where we can see a strong Roman construction built over a pre-Roman settlement. This could be the location of Talabriga, a road station mentioned in Anthony’s Itinerary. Coordinates: 40.637037, -8.463959

A bridge over the Mondego river?

(Originally published on November 9, 2011)

The hypothesis of a Roman bridge over the Mondego river in Tábua municipality is based on a stone inscription integrated in a wall of a private house in Direita street in Póvoa de Midões: «Imp. Tito VIII. Co (n) s / [p/f]ontem aedificavit yesterday / Severus Vituli f. ». The inscription is dedicated to Emperor Titus in the year 80 (his 8th consulate) referring apparently the construction of a bridge by Severus, son of Vituli. Difficulties in reading the initial “P” led some authors to read “Fontem” (fountain) instead of “Pontem” (bridge), but given the rounded top of the letter (see right photo) it may be indeed the letter “P”. Since the place is close to the Mondego, the bridge could be over this river, probably in a site called «Porto de Midões». One document from the year 1169 mentions the reamains of a «pontem lapideum» (stone bridge) at this site, eventually (in Livro Preto da Sé de Coimbra Doc. 60).

The inscription much more eroded now (picture from http://www.freguesiapovoademidoes.pt/freguesia/historia/)

Coordinates: 40.392513, -7.975239