The Old Town Lagos in Portugal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, just like its counterpart in North America, Quebec City. The old town’s history goes back to the 12th century when Lagos became part of the Kingdom of Portugal.
Old Town Lagos is surrounded by different types of fortifications, which represent an important aspect of its identity; they are symbolic elements that reflect the historical events and battles it faced over the years. It also has a lot of churches from different eras because Catholicism was one of the main religions at that time, particularly after King Dinis made it obligatory for everyone to be Christian and constructed several cathedrals across his kingdom. There are also some other significant buildings present on St Catherine Street (Rua de Santa Catarina), where most of the churches are, such as Isaac Aboab’s Synagogue.
The main reason why Old Town Lagos had to be fortified was so it could resist attacks from pirates and Muslim invaders. The first type of fortification that has been preserved until this day is the so-called “Filigree Wall.” It was built in the 16th century by King John III and served as a defense against cannons and fire ships which were used at that time. Even though today we are no longer worried about cannons, this type of wall still works perfectly well, hence its name (filigree) which means something delicate but very strong. Filigree walls usually have big machicolations (openings in the towers) which were designed as holes for archers and cannons.
The high walls have several gates; the most popular ones are the “Arco da Vela” (the Silver Arch), with its typical baroque filigree design, and the “Porta de Santiago” (St. James Gate). The latter is an interesting piece of architecture because it has a lot of carvings on it. It was built by King Afonso Henriques in 1171 and later reused as part of a church’s construction. Today, this gate serves as entrance to one of Lagos’ art museums. In between these two gates there is another important wall called “the Filigree Wall,” which has been there since the 16th century.
The second type of fortification is the so-called “Civic Fortifications.” These were built between 1570 and 1640 by the Lagos’ administration. There are only three civic forts left today, being one of them called “Forte Sao Lourenço do Bugio” (St. Lawrence Fort). It has a polygonal shape with 12 sides and 13 bastions. Walking around this fort it is possible to see some holes which used to be occupied by cannons in order to defend against attacks from the sea during those times. At the end there is a museum which shows how people lived inside this building when it was still inhabited.
This last fort can be considered as an example of transition between a medieval fort and a modern one. One of the most important features that represent this transition is the usage of its two main gates: “the Triumphal Arch” which was built in 1684, and another made with bricks from 1622 to 1623.
Another feature that differentiates it from older forts is the presence of windows, since they were added later as a way of relieving pressure on wooden constructions due to humidity. There are also some secret doors, narrow passages used by soldiers to move faster inside the building when being chased. Inside there is a platform where cannons were placed; nowadays guns are not needed anymore but people can still enter through an elevator or climb up a small ladder. As mentioned before, there are still some cannons inside. The biggest disadvantage of the fort is that it did not have enough space for its entire garrison, so some of them had to live outside.
Besides Old Town and its walls there are several other places worth visiting in Lagos: Ponta da Piedade (Footstone Point), Atalaia do Norte (North Lighthouse) which has a restaurant nowadays where you can eat and enjoy the sea views; Praia dos Salgados beach which is full of rock formations, called “salgados” because they were originally covered with salt from marine algae; Praia dos Aveiros (Aveiro’s Beach), also known as “Baldwin Beach,” located on top of an old reef; Praia dos Coelhos (Rabbit’s Beach), which name is due to its shape and location that resembles a rabbit.
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