Ana Catarina Sousa

Archaeologist, professor at the Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Lisboa

‘Quel diable! Wellington n’a pas construit ces montagnes!’: from the Copper Age to the Peninsular War in Castelo / Passo (Arruda dos Vinhos)

The above quote, attributed by General Pamplona to Marshal Masséna when he came across the Lines of Torres Vedras, naturally applies to the whole of the Lines, but it came to our minds daily when we walked up the steep path that took us to Work No. 12 to carry out archaeological work.

Located next to the Rio Grande da Pipa, at an altitude of 280 m, work No. 12 is located at the extreme of a crest of elevations, controlling circulation axes and positioning itself between the Moinho do Céu fort and the Caneira fort. The designation ‘Forte do Passo’ refers, of course, to its role in controlling the passage, but, over time, the toponym Passo became Paço, today designating the small population cluster located at its base, the current municipality of Sobral de Monte Agraço.

But, as Marechal Masséna allegedly said, the determining factor for the success of the Lines of Torres Vedras was the rugged terrain of the Lisbon Peninsula and the choice of strategic points to control the circulation axes.

When we think of the long time, thousands of years, the sociopolitical contexts change, but the landscape has always been decisive in the guidelines for the implantation of human groups, and the site of Castelo / Passo in Arruda dos Vinhos is one of the most eloquent examples in this perspective. Effectively, the site where work No. 12 was built was successively occupied over the last 5,000 years, always with functions of territorial control in different chronological periods: Chalcolithic, Roman, and finally in the Peninsular War, a unique succession in the context of the Lines of Torres Vedras.

The RHLT project highlighted the importance of the archaeological approach to this heritage. With the first archaeological excavations carried out between 2008 and 2011, we were able to better understand not only the architectural elements hidden by erosion processes, but also the characterization of the constructive processes and the biography of these sites, sometimes with previous and subsequent occupations. At the site of Castelo / Forte do Passo there had already been a long series of archaeological campaigns. Identified in 1987, this site was the target of the first archaeological campaigns under the direction of Ludgero Gonçalves (1988-1997) and Guilherme Cardoso (1998-1999). These campaigns were directed towards the Chalcolithic and Roman periods, but little was known about the 19th century fortification.

Since there are still many gaps in information, the municipality of Arruda dos Vinhos promoted a new phase of research through new methodologies (LiDAR surveys, digital terrain models, geoarchaeological studies) and carrying out diagnostic surveys that allow a better understanding of the site and the planning of future enhancement actions.

The archaeological campaigns carried out in 2021-2022 took place in partnership with UNIARQ (Archaeology Center of the University of Lisbon) under the direction of Ana Catarina Sousa (UNIARQ), Jorge Lopes (Municipality of Arruda dos Vinhos) and André Texugo (UNIARQ). The study has the consultancy of Colonel Eng. José Paulo Berger, by Professors Gonçalo Vieira (Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon, remote sensing) and João C. Duarte (Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, Geology) and the geoarchaeologist Maurizio Zambaldi (UNIARQ).

The new campaigns and the reassessment of the data retrieved from previous works now allow us to have a clearer picture of the history of the site:

  In the Chalcolithic (3rd millennium BC) the site was occupied by an agro-pastoral community. Fortification structures are documented, namely a tower identified in the 1990s. In 2022, traces of another similar structure, in a very damaged condition, were identified. The architectures that could have formed a fortified Chalcolithic enclosure were greatly affected by the historical occupations.

   The occupation of the Roman period is evident in the abundant material culture that indicates a chronology of the transition mid-2nd / 1st century BC. So far, no significant structures have been found, but the type of implantation, the material culture and the earlier chronology could also indicate an occupation related to the Roman conquest phase.

   In the context of the Peninsular War, a redoubt was built that completely altered the relief of the site, affecting the oldest occupations. With the recent campaign carried out, it was possible to identify the battery or barbete (where the artillery was positioned) consisting of an outer wall embankment and an inner embankment. Part of the magazine was also detected, a robust structure that may have reused an older construction.

After the extensive cleaning of the vegetation cover and the two archaeological campaigns, we now know more about the three moments in which the site of the Castle was occupied, with long periods of abandonment. The results of the work have already been shared with the community through visits and lectures and visitors already have explanatory signs in the scope of the Historic Route of the Lines of Torres Vedras.

But after many climbs to the Castle, we know that we still have to return there to better understand the long history of this place.

Further information on the Paço fort: 
(+351) 263 977 035