Friday, August 24, 2007

IF YOU ARE VISITING PORTUGAL-- ATTENTION!

The wonders of Côa River Valley -- East of Porto

Outdoor drawings discovered in Foz Côa, a remote Portuguese valley, have changed the way experts think about prehistoric art. The whole area is securely fenced off from the outside world and officials use four-wheel drive jeeps to transport visitors to and from the site.

The collection of rock art here spans eons - the oldest work dates back 25,000 years. It is also the largest collection of outdoor paleolithic drawings anywhere in the world. Prehistoric people drew what they saw - mountain goats, horses, aurochs, deer and the occasional fish. The canvasses were vertical rock faces and they used a variety of techniques - fine-line incision with a sharp tool, pecking (creating a deep line of indentation by hammering a pointed implement into the stone) and abrasion. Remnants of red paint have been found on some of 1,000 or more engravings that have been discovered to date.
It's something of a miracle that the Côa Valley Archaeological Park exists at all. It all began when Electricidade de Portugal decided to build a hydro dam near the mouth of the River Côa. In 1992, a government survey team conducting an environmental impact study found some of the carvings at a site that would have been flooded by the dam.
When the existence of the drawings was made public in 1994, archaeologists and others immediately campaigned to save the site. But many of the locals would have preferred the hydro dam and the prosperity that it would have brought to the area. And the then-governing Social Democrats also sided with the electricity company but were hotly opposed by the Socialist Party, which made halting work on the dam an election promise. When the Socialist Party won the election in the fall of 1995, work on the dam was stopped and Portugal's first archaeological park established along the 17-kilometre valley.
It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998. Construction has started on a visitors' centre and museum perched on top of a nearby hill. Itis slated to open in 2008.
The Park office at Vila Nova de Foz Côa is open every day, except Mondays. Call (+351) 279-768-260/1 or go to (English version available) www.ipa.min-cultura.pt/coa. Reservations are necessary; email visitas.pavc@ipa.min-cultura.pt. A bottle of water and a hat are also essential.

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