“In Portugal there are at least 42 aqueducts, of which 15 are built for public water supply and 26 for private supply.” The word aqueduct comes from the Latin “aqua” for water and “ducere” which means to lead. Aqueducts are very much associated with the Roman Empire which were designed to “supply water for drinking and public baths.”
The North of Portugal
The two specific aqueducts that we discussed in the North of the country, are the Aqueduct of the Mosteiro de Santo André de Rendufe and the Aqueduct of Vila do Conde. The aqueduct of Mosteiro de Santo André de Rendufe is located in Amares and dates back to the 19th century. The Monastery of St. Andrew of Rendufe, is considered as “one of the main houses of Benedictine monks in Portugal, although it is not known when it was built, it is supposed to already exist in 1151.” They began building this aqueduct whose name is taken from the monastery in “1810 and concluded in 1813”. “The purpose of this aqueduct was to supply water for the monastery of Santo André de Rendufe”, it is not a very long aqueduct but Bárbara Sofia Bruno assures me that “it is very beautiful and although archaic it is very much worth a visit.”
The Aqueduct of Vila do Conde started being built in “1705 and was finished in 1740”. Similarly, this aqueduct was also designed to “supply a monastery called Santa Clara and it was designed by a military engineer called Manuel Vila de Lobes”. “It is a monumental presence within the landscape of Povoa de Varzim and Vila do Conde because it is a 5km long aqueduct.” It is also one with "the largest number of arches in the world", presenting 999 along its length, which ends in the Monastery of Santa Clara.
Centre of Portugal
The Conimbriga Aqueduct in Condeixa-a-nova is a 3km long aqueduct. “Conimbriga has been classified as a national monument since the 19th century.” This aqueduct is the most studied one of them all as it dates back to the first century, having being built during the Roman Empire.
“The aqueduct was built to supply water to the roman city of Conimbriga as it once was a roman city over there”. This aqueduct is visitable and tourists can visit this city and see the thermal baths through guided tours, which you can see on the municipality’s website. Bárbara Sofia Bruno assured me that “Conimbriga is worth visiting purely as it is an ancient roman city and that it like a museum nowadays.” Following on from the Conimbriga Aqueduct, she has told me that “you can then head to Coimbra which is not far and you can see the Aqueduto de São Sebastiao which is from the 16th century, which was designed to supply the highest part of the city and it crosses the city with 1km in length but it is very beautiful.”
Additionally, located near Tomar, over the Valley of Ribeira dos Pegões, “the Pegões Aqueduct is one of the largest and most imposing Portuguese aqueducts. It was built in the 17th century, designed to supply a very important Convent in Portugal called the Convent of Christ with water. This is an important aqueduct and it is 6km and in the larger section reaches a maximum height of 30 metres. It is very visible on the landscape with 180 arches so it is very long aqueduct. The history of this aqueduct is therefore strongly linked to that of the convent.”
South of Portugal
The Águas Livres Aqueduct in Lisbon “is classified as a national monument and it is already on the tetative list of UNESCO World Patrimony.” It is a historic aqueduct and it is clear to see that it is a remarkable example of 18th century Portuguese engineering, even remarkably surviving the earthquake in 1755 and as “a hydraulic infrastructure, the aqueduct began to be decommissioned in the second half of the 19th century but the water was still being used until 1974.” Bárbara Sofia Bruno stated that “it is a testimony of history, of Lisbon and of the empire.” Historic Lisbon once suffered from a lack of clean drinking water so in “the early 1700's King John V decided to build a vast aqueduct to bring water in from the Sintra Mountains.” The Águas Livres Aqueduct is a 58km long aqueduct in total and it has 127 arches all along and in the Alcântara valley it has 35 arches.”
The Water Museum in Lisbon is open to the public every day throughout the whole year from Tuesday to Sunday and is only closed on Mondays and holidays. “Everyone can see the aqueduct from the old Alcântara stream and they can see the reservoir in Amoreiras but people can also experience the underground through the museums tours.” Bárbara Sofia Bruno explained that “if you want to experience an aqueduct in Portugal this is the one to experience as this is the only one that allows for a full experience for everybody.”
“You can experience it in full 360, the arches, the reservoir and the underground.” She also told me that “sometimes people say that Águas Livres Aqueduct has the highest arch in the world, but it does not. In the Alcantara valley you have a very high arch but it is not the biggest, the biggest one is actually in an aqueduct in Italy.” What Bárbara Sofia Bruno does confirm is that the Águas Livres Aqueduct has “the biggest ogival stone arch in one stretch in the world!”
The Museum is the place to go for guided tours and to experience the Águas Livre’s aqueduct to its fullest as it dedicates itself to telling the story of these incredible monuments. They do “individual tours, thematic walks, visits, talks and guided tours and activities for children.” The Water Museum, held by EPAL, SA – Empresa Portuguesa das Águas Livres, is made up of “four spaces scattered throughout the city of Lisbon, all of them buildings related to the supply of water to the city of Lisbon, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries: the Águas Livres Aqueduct, the Mãe d’Água das Amoreiras Reservoir, the Patriarcal Reservoir and the Barbadinhos Steam Pumping Station.”
“The Water Museum’s mission is to raise awareness of the identities of the Aqueduct as a monument and to conserve cultural heritage sites in Portugal as well as maintaining educational and environmental awareness focusing on the issues of water.” If you are venturing out to Lisbon, the Water Museum has a lot to offer so for more information, please see https://www.epal.pt.
Triumphs of Engineering: Portugal’s Aqueducts!
Send us your comments or opinion on this article.