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The Fort of São Filipe

Last updated on 16th December 2021

After the flooding of 2010, the Portuguese Government on the mainland approved a big financial support package to repair the damages and prevent further floods. The results are, in many places, cemented river beds and upriver,  concrete “combs” in the normally tranquil rivers to stop boulders, trees and other debris from pushing the water during a flash flood out of the rivers. Most, but not all of the points in the program have been put into reality.

In Funchal at the “Praça de Autonomia”, two of these riverbeds come together, and when the construction came in to dig between the rivers to create an estuary, the construction crew stuck walls. As is the requirement, they contacted our archaeological department, and said something like; “We found some ruins here.” The answer was:” Yes, that will be the Fort São Filipe, a chapel and a sugar factory from the 15th century.”  The first settlers had built the essential core of a city: religion, security and the first business venture.

As the discovery found its way into the news, we citizens all sensed that heavy considerations were going on in the Government floors: should they tear down the ruins and have their estuary, or preserve the ruins? The archaeologists won the discussion, and the ruins were properly excavated, aligned and kept intact, albeit without a cover. For some years now, the Government wanted to turn the site into a museum. Some explanatory signs are already up, being perused by the tourists.

Now the Government arranged funding of 3.6 Mio euros for the project. “The rehabilitation and requalification of the referred space will improve the attractiveness of the place of great historical and archaeological value, and create a new museum space, developed in order to make the ruins of the old Fort of São Filipe accessible”. This is a private project from a promoter who promised to abide by all archeological and cultural provisions of current legislation.  

Ursula Hahn
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