“ Sightseeing Type: Castles / Palaces „
The Sagres fortress is located at the tip of Sagres Promontory, a headland near to the south-western tip of Portugal, 3km from Cape St Vincent, and on the outskirts of the small town of Sagres.
The name of the promontory derives from Latin Promontory Sacrum and the whole region had religious significance in ancient times.
Sagres offers the last safe harbour for ships starting the voyage beyond Cape St. Vincent (both Belixe Bay, between Sagres Point and the Cape, or Sagres Bay, to the east of Sagres Promontory, offer such shelter).
Sagres is historically connected to the maritime tradition and the Portuguese Age of Discoveries. The Infante Henrique, known as Prince Henry the Navigator, lived nearby in a village called later Vila do Infante, though the story of the Sagres School of Navigators is somewhat apocryphal: it was in fact Lagos that provided the resources and starting point for the early exploration.
Still, Henry's role in stimulating the maritime developments as well as his connection with the area are unquestionable (he died at Sagres in 1460), and Sagres Point is as good a place to celebrate them as any other - in fact, probably a better one than many, as it is a very evocative location, beautiful, wild and windswept, with wonderful views and, because of being largely covered by the fortress dating originally to the 16th century.
The fortress itself was heavily damaged in the Great Earthquake of 1755, but it was largely restored in more recent times and provides a fitting frame for the promontory itself.
Approached from a large car park, the fortress bunker-like wall looms heavily in front of the visitor. Entered by a tunnel-like gate, the fortress itself consists mostly of bulwarks, enclosed by a fortified perimeter, with cannons and batteries.
There are some buildings, including warehouses and ruins of the powder magazines, as well as a church, the casemates, the captains' house, but most of the area is a windswept, somehow desolate wilderness, covered with grasses, low shrubs and fascinating, colourful and apparently quite unique plant life.
Also near the entrance, there is a padrao, a column topped by a coat of arms and a cross, which explorers used to mark the territories that they claimed for their king and country.
There is also a giant compass rose made of pebbles, over 40m diameter and a bit of a folly as it has 40 segments (normally, compass roses have 32 segments).
A modern visitors' centre exists, with space for exhibitions, toilets, cafe and a gift shop (though the cafe is closed in the low season). There is clearly a potential to make the Fortress into a major attraction, a tourist-park with pageant elements, hands on exhibits and educational multimedia displays.
Luckily, this is all still to come (and maybe never will) and as for now, the visitors can enjoy the eerie, somehow desolate, utterly captivating beauty of the place. A network of cobbled paths criss-crosses the promontory, and once the gate and gate-side buildings are left behind, it seems that the casemates and battlements, old cannons and walls are part of the natural fabric of the place, grown organically from the rock, supported rather then eroded by wild, sweet smelling herbs.
Sagres Point reminded me of other end-of-the-land locations: the tip of the Dingle Peninsula with the view of the Blasket Islands in Kerry, Uwchmynydd with the Bardsey Island, the nearby Cape St Vincent (which is visible from Sagres Point to the west), even Dover Cliffs and the Polish Cape Rozewie. Standing on a high cliff, with nothing but sea between you and this other land, invisible in the distance beyond the pint where the Earth starts to curve, evokes almost primeval feelings, either just in your reporter (maybe I have explorer genes) or in humans as a species as such. I suspect it's the latter - after all curiosity is a powerful emotion, and if it wasn't for curiosity (obviously combined with greed and necessity, but let's be romantic for a while), we would have never left the savannahs of our origins.
The entrance is only 3 Euros (1.50 for children) and it's worth every penny.
SAGRES is not the best place for a week on the beach perhaps but it IS an excellent daytrip from the resorts of the Algarve.
Sagres is a small fishing port on a windswept peninsula of arid, scrubby vegetation and dramatic cliffs. It is 75 miles west of Faro and is a complete contrast to the rest of the Algarve.
Although Sagres is a must for visitors to the Algarve because of its cliff scenery and its historical connections, the village itself is a bit of a shambles. Set back from the headland, on the high ground, there is a hotch-potch of houses and apartments and a road which winds down to the quayside of a sheltered fishing harbour. It isn't as pretty as some of the other resorts on this coast but it has a few hotels with several nice restaurants, and bars and cafes around what is the closest thing to a village centre: the little square, Praça da República. This gets fairly busy with daytrippers and backpackers of many nationalities milling around and sitting outside the cafés.
However, it's beauty lies in the wild beaches, unspoilt landscapes and the lack of commercial development in the surrounding area.
The coast around Sagres is dotted with more than 20 beaches: some are sandy coves hidden at the foot of cliffs, others are broad expanses of sand that stretch away to the horizon, all offering peace and solitude.
Sagres is situated inside the Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina Natural Park. It is the most southerly community in Portugal and the most south-westerly in continental Europe.
It sits on the southern side of Cape St. Vincent where Prince Henry the Navigator came in the 15th century. Here he founded his school of seamanship, bringing together the best astronomers and scientists of the time, to work on his obsession to push back the frontiers of the known world. This opened the phase in Portuguese history known as 'The Discoveries'.
In the restored fortess you can see th
e giant compass dial - 143 feet in diameter - which it is claimed, helped him with his calculations. There is a visitor centre inside the fort displaying old documents and maps. From the battlements to the west of the fortress there is a magnificent view across the blue crescent bay of Cape St. Vincent.
At the other end of the bay is the lighthouse of St. Vincent, the extreme southwesterly point of continental Europe. For many years this was the end of the known world and it really does feel like it.
Cape St Vincent lighthouse was built on the site of a 16th-century Franciscan convent in 1846. It was electrified in 1906, and is situated at the end of a 6 km road from Sagres. The two 1,000-watt lamps magnified by concentric rows of prisms throw a 10 foot tall beam of light 60 km out to sea making it the second most powerful lighthouse in Europe. All shipping from and through the Mediterranean to the west coast of Europe and most of the eastern seaboard of North America passes this way.
I would advise bringing extra clothing if visiting here, the wind blows clear across the Atlantic. This is a lazy wind. It doesn't go around you, it goes straight through you.
Thanks for reading
Promontory fortress located in the Algarve region of Portugal.