There were so many small surprises on our visit to an ancient fort at Sagres, a community at the southwestern tip of Portugal. We went with our friends John and Velma.
Dave and I had been to Sagres before, but we had not spent time in the Fortaleza de Sagres, the remains of a fort built in the 1400s to protect Sagres from North African invaders. Many believe the fort was also the site of the legendary home of a school for cartographers, astronomers and sea captains established by Prince Henry the Navigator. This group spearheaded Portugal’s advances as a leader in world exploration.
Really the history of the site was of secondary importance because…… the wonder of the place lay in the amazing views it offered of the surrounding sea and cliffs and the little intriguing discoveries we made on the site.
Dave spent a long time watching and photographing the fisherman at the fort’s tip which rounded out to sea. He wondered how these fellows had managed to climb down the sharp rock wallwith all their fishing equipment and why didn’t they fall into the ocean from their precarious perches. It was fascinating to just stand and watch the waves come crashing into shore against the cliffs. How far up the rock face would they go each time? We wondered if the high-spirited waves would reach the tiny arc of a rainbow reflected in their mist.
I stopped to pray in the tiny church which Prince Henry had built in 1459 and was delighted to find this colourful and playful tiled mosaic on the altar featuring elephants and peacocks and other creatures. It seemed so wonderfully out of keeping with the austerity of the rest of the church. Dave and I climbed up a water tower built in the mid 1400s. Drawings of it are included in documents about the fort that date back to the early 1500s. I tried to imagine the folks who would have inhabited the fort at that time. This structure was designed by Portuguese artist and architect Pancho Guede. As you walked through the maze to its centre you heard these periodic loud rushing sounds. When you reached its center you stood on a wire platform which was over a deep narrow hole in the limestone cliffs and as each wave washed into the geological ‘blow hole’ below your feet there was a thunderous roar so loud you wanted to cover your ears and a little tornado like wind blew up around you and water sprayed you. It was so cool!This is the kind of marker stone used by Portuguese navigators to mark the new territories they began to discover in the 15th century and claim them as Portuguese possessions. I stood in front of the marker thinking about how Portuguese colonization of places like Brazil, Angola, East Timor and Macau turned out to be catastrophic for the locals, whose ‘heathen’ religious practices were wiped out in favor of Christianity, whose cultures were forever altered thanks to the ‘civilizing’ influence of Portugal and whose resources were plundered for Portugal’s economic gain.
There are forts and castles aplenty here in the Algarve to explore and tour. You can get tired of it after a time. But at Fortaleza de Sargres I had a very enjoyable morning just looking for the little things that made me stop and wonder.