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Sunday, August 5, 2012

THE (MARITIME) DEFENSIVE LINE OF OEIRAS I


- Bugio -

This post will start a topic very near to my heart when it comes to discussing military strategy during the French Invasions: The defensive line, a maritime one, of the river Tagus, which is to say of the shoal line of Oeiras. Everybody has heard of the defensive line of Torres Vedras and how great it is, which I don't disagree with. Yes, it was planned by Arthur Wellesley and built from scratch, with the only purpose to keep of the French but my predicaments are somewhat different: 1st, I was born and raised in Oeiras; secondly, Torres Vedras' defensive line was the last defensive line against the French, while the one from Oeiras was the primary one in military strategy; this defensive line, made out of seaside fortresses and a fortress/lighthouse built in the middle of the river, existed since the 16th century and it was the one that was involved in the 1st French Invasion of 1807.
So, as you can see, I have plenty of reasons to talk about it and today we shall start with the fortress of São Lourenço da Cabeça Seca, a.k.a. Bugio (the name of the lighthouse).
I will make an exception by starting this topic, obviously, since you know that this blog isn't about the military history of Portugal during this time-period. And the reason why I'm doing it now is that yesterday I had the pleasure of being part of a guided tour to this fortress at the entrance of the city of Lisbon!

The view of the fortres and the lighthouse as we were arriving by boat. Picture taken by me.
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As a historical background, one has to explain the reasons that took Portuguese Monarchs to start such an endeavor to built a fortress in the middle of the river. At it's place, where the fortress and lighthouse are standing on today, was always a little island of sand and rocks, also called “cabeça seca” in portuguese (dry head), and it always was part of the imaginary of military strategists, monarchs, engineers to use it for the purpose we know today.
During the 16th century, growing closer to the war for the Portuguese Crown with the Spaniards such idea really went forward. So we had the fortresses on each side of the river that controlled the entrance of the ships, like the fortress of São Julião da Barra (of which I shall talk about later on another post linked to this subject) and the ones on the other side of the river, like in Almada. And therefore another fortress that could interact between all of thos would be an excelent strategic idea. 

 The view of the fortress of S. Julião da Barra from the Bugio. Picture taken by me.
 
During the Filipine Dynasty, when Portugal and Spain shared the same king for succession reasons, the Italian monk, also an engineer, Giovanni Vicenzo Casale, planned to built this fortress. It took almost a century to be done, since it was only possible to do so during half of the year, while during Winter all that had already been built would be destroyed by the ocean.
The 1st construction was made out of wood, later being slowly replaced by stone, only to be finished after the Portuguese got their crown back in mids of the 17th century. It was during this time that the fortress also became officially a lighthouse (probably before, since it would be necessary to show the fortresses' position at night and during fog).
One of the curiosities of this project was that it was always planned to be of a round architecture, instead of the star-shaped fortresses known from that time. The logic was, ans still is, to have a clearer view of the surroundings and access from all sides alike it enemy stricked, but when it comes to military strategy it fails, since the use of cannons alongside with the seaside fortresses is practically impossible.
But there it is, a magnificent piece of military engineering and architecture, only matched by another similar construction in Brazil. One of the kind! A fortress blocking the passage of ships, together with other fortresses and with the extreme natural conditions of the water currents of the Tagus river, like hidden sand banks, rocks, underwater currents, difficult and unpredictable low and high tides, etc.
Now, you ask, what is it's relation to the French Invasions? The answer: everything and nothing! But nevertheless, a beautiful piece of history.
The French occupied it, like the rest of the country including the fortress of São Julião da Barra, in 1807, according to the peaceful surrender signed between Napoleon and the Portuguese king the Prince-Regent Dom João the 6th, while the British allies started the maritime blockade in 1808. So we have the Brits at sea, later at the fortress of São Julião and the French who remained in Bugio.

 "Lookouts" built around the top of the fortress. Picture atken by me.



 View of the Atlantic ocean from inside of these "lookouts". Picture taken by me.


It was completely covered with trees, branches and shrubbery to keep the scraps of the stonework away from injury when a cannon ball would strike.
According to Carlos Pereira Callixto, author of the book “Fortificações Marítimas do Concelho de Oeiras” (Maritime fortifications of Oeiras), in 1802 it had 26 cannons and in December 1807 was taken by Junot's soldiers. In march the year after the British Naval force strikes with cannon fire without being able to overtake this fortress (something that only happened in September the same year).
So, as you can see, even without having fired once, it was obvious to everyone the importance of it's strategic placement.
Today, it still remains where it was built, being “attacked” daily by the ocean but there's not one person living near the river and it's surroundings that would ever think of this historical land mark to ever disappear.
Unfortunately it has lost most of it's historical interior, but the chapel of São Lourenço still remains, such as the soldiers' wards and the olive oil warehouse (to keep the lighthouse in a time before electricity).

 Soldiers' wards. Picture taken by me.



 The entrance of the chapel of S. Lourenço. Picture taken by me.



 The interior of the chapel of S. Lourenço. Picture taken by me.

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