Historical Route of the Lines of Torres Vedras

Ana Umbelino

Town Councillor and Vice-President of the Association for the Historical and Touristic Development

Association for the Historical and Touristic Development of the Lines of Torres Vedras

Praça Dr. Eugénio Dias, 12 2590-016 Sobral de Monte Agraço Portugal

http://www.cilt.pt/en

Lisbon, Portugal

EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Award 2014


The Lines Of Torres Vedras: A Remarkable Restoration







The Lines of Torres Vedras are the most remarkable set of fortifications from the Napoleonic Wars, where major military maneuvers with the confrontation of troops took place in Sobral, Arruda dos Vinhos and Vila Franca de Xira.

They constitute an historical reference for the strategy and military architecture in Europe. For its uniqueness, it has become an important symbol of identity and a powerful educational resource.

18torr1xThe Memorandum of Wellington (20 October 1809) directed to Lieutenant Fletcher gave order to survey the terrain and fortify the most advantageous and defensible positions, thus creating a defensive system on the north of Lisbon, which would came to be known as the Lines of Torres Vedras. The system comprised three lines, with a total of 152 redoubts, 600 pieces of artillery, an optical telegraphic communication system based on signal posts, defended by approximately 140.000 Portuguese, British and Spanish soldiers. It extended for more than 88 kilometers between the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean to protect Lisbon from the French Army.

The Lines of Torres Vedras established a turning point in the history of the Napoleonic campaigns, assuming great importance for both the history of Portugal and Contemporary World History, with particular emphasis on the intervening nations: Portugal, United Kingdom, France, Spain, and indirectly for the Portuguese overseas territories, including Brazil.
To the historical, strategic and symbolic value, we add the heritage value: provisional fortifications, built using original methods of construction, deployed in areas with strong anthropogenic pressure, the Lines of Torres Vedras are currently in a good degree of preservation.

The spirit of sacrifice of those who fought against the French by integrating the allied forces, building fortifications or abandoning their homes and destroying their property, depriving the invading army of goods on the ground but at the same time jeopardizing the livelihoods of the native countrymen and the country's future.

What is at stake here is the preservation of the memory of the truly extraordinary circumstances surrounding the genial design and construction of semi-permanent fortification works built on land using only local resources. Beyond the strategic role that they had played in the past, nowadays they give a renovated and motivational interest due to its historical, cultural and tourist importance.

The support of the EEA Grants enabled the rehabilitation and conservation of this unique European military and archeological heritage.

The HRLTV is deeply rooted on the territory, the landscape and heritage of the different villages where these military structures are implemented. We are philosophically engaged with the local development of the different villages where these structures are located, combining cultural heritage tourism with wine tourism, natural tourism and religious tourism potentiating other monumental structures and natural sites (hills mountains tourism) with beach tourism and food tourism.

Beyond any doubts for us the innovative aspect has to do with the level of cooperation already established across the six municipalities and the creation of an association, with the specific responsibility to manage and maintain this set of unique European Heritage.

In September 2013, the RHLTV applied the Historical Route of the Lines of Torres Vedras for one of the most prestigious international awards – the Europa Nostra Awards - putting the focus on the work of safeguarding, conservation and restoration developed in recent years in the heritage of the Lines of Torres Vedras.

On March 20, in Brussels, it was announced that the HRLTV was part of the 27 projects awarded with the Europa Nostra Awards 2014 in the category of Conservation.

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For the award the jury took into account several factors, such as: the importance of preserving this military structure, the role it played in the Portuguese and European history; numerous inter advantages to the different authorities involved throughout HRLTV; and the possibility that the new route set offers to encourage a new audience to discover the region.

The strong and deep level of cooperation between the six municipalities with allowed the rehabilitation of the military structures and the creation of the Historical Route of Lines of Torres Vedras. It is a quite singular set of structures which combine several professional skills such as archaeology, environment (fauna and flora), landscape, European and Portuguese History, geology, military strategy and tactics base on a vast number of redoubts, strongholds and earthen fortifications that gain an added value because they operate as one unique line, quickly adapting to the set of enemy forces facing them, reacting as a unique living organism, combining their strengths (higher defensive positions, enhanced by the morphology of the landscape, terrific and smart communication system (with many optical signs poles) and several military roads allowing efficient and swift liaisons between the East and West front and between the northern and the southern lines (i.e. the 1st and 2nd defensive Lines).

In a similar way to what occurred 200 years ago the regional authorities and local populations are setting the tune: altogether developed a profound level of cooperation and are engaged to face in one voice stand the challenge of tourism and sustainable development.

One of our major outcomes has to do with quality of the Human Resources involved throughout this entire joint co-operation. The results achieved for far are directly related to the talents and quality of the work of all those that made possible the implementation of HRLTV. A core group of 12 brave and hard working people, proud of this unique European heritage, from different scientific backgrounds are responsible for everyday management of the Historical Route of Lines of Torres Vedras. Special degrees, postgraduates and PhD’s in history, archaeology, anthropology, landscape architecture, geology, geography, project management, museum studies, cultural communication, tourism, military engineering, environment engineering, and archivist.

The HRLTV developed since 2006 a close collaboration with several partners (The Portuguese Army and the British Historical Society of Portugal), which occasionally provide with extra manpower, a bounty of several volunteers have been participating across different activities (university trainees for the archaeological summer field works, local scouts groups in outdoor activities, local residents from the different communities where the military works are located, and last but not least, a workforce from the military forces, mainly the Portuguese army).

All partners have a strong will and commitment to take the HRLTV to the next level of excellence. It is very rare to develop these kind of archaeological interventions (excavations and diggings) in military structures of the early 19th century composed mainly of rammed earth. We were pioneers in developing and establishing good set of practices regarding the specificity of this heritage, namely for the conservation of the military works and guidelines for correct vegetation and flora maintenance.

Our level of excellence it is deeply rooted on the level of conservation of this set of military structures; the decision to safeguard, legally protect and rehabilitate these two military defensive lines it is of paramount importance in order to achieve a sustainable tourism which will add to the regional development already in action. The HRLTV mandate it is very clear in the purpose and direction to follow during this entire joint co-operation, which is still ongoing and we guess it will become a never ending process.