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  • Mário Rocha

Foz, Cantareira and the lighthouse of S. Miguel o Anjo

This part of the city is commonly known as Foz due to the fact that it is located at the end of the Douro River. Still, this area was once called São João da Foz in a reference to the patron saint São João Batista.

Until the 19th century this area was defined as a fishermen's village located quite far from the city walls like other villages or places like Nevogilde, Massarelos or Ramalde.


Cantareira in the middle of the 19th century. On the left side it is possible to see the lighthouse S. Miguel o Anjo. Source: Porto de Antanho

Towards the middle of the 16th century, this whole area was transformed with the arrival of Dom Miguel da Silva. Not having married and followed an ecclesiastical career, this illustrious man had a marked influence both in Rome and at the Portuguese court. He was Portugal's ambassador to the Fifth Lateran Council convened by Pope Julius II and representative of the Portuguese crown to the Holy See. He was even nominated cardinal by Popes Leo X and Clement VII. He lived with the fine society of Italian Renaissance artists and thinkers, having himself developed knowledge in the fields of mathematics and botany. He was a true intellectual humanist.


In any case, this notoriety and prestige created dissatisfaction and opposition in Portugal. Having introduced the inquisition on national territory in 1536, the "pious" and extremely religious João III, the eldest son of Manuel I, ordered the return of Miguel da Silva. Against his wishes, in order to keep him as far away as possible from the court in Lisbon, he was given important posts: he was bishop of Viseu and commendatory of the Benedictine Monastery of Santo Tirso, of which the district of São João da Foz was part.


D. Miguel da Silva. Source: Wikipedia

Imbued with Renaissance sentiment, D. Miguel da Silva, together with the architect Francisco Cremonês, who had already worked on St. Peter's Basilica, decided to take on a series of buildings in the north of the country, including this area.

The lighthouse/chapel of São Miguel O Anjo is situated precisely at the point of intersection between the Douro and the Atlantic. Next to these brackish and historically dangerous waters, this listed monument is an icon in terms of heritage linked to the sea. It was the first lighthouse to be built in Portugal.

Erected in 1528 by D. Miguel, this building is utilitarian/functional in nature, as it helps ships to enter and leave the Douro, and is a unique symbol of the Renaissance in Portugal, contrary to the Manueline style of the time.

It has a parallelepiped base and an octagonal dome. Inside it has an image of the archangel S. Miguel, homonym of D. Miguel. It is worth mentioning that two buildings were built next to the lighthouse. In 1841 the building of the Corporal of the Pilots of Barra do Douro is built. In 1852 the semaphore tower is built.

It can be said that this monument serves to honour the figure of D. Miguel da Silva who marked the epoch both locally and regionally.


Lighthouse of S. Miguel o Anjo. Source: Porto de Antanho

Other lighthouses and beacons were, throughout history, ordered to be built in this area to facilitate and mark the passage of ships.

Located in the hermitage of Nossa Senhora da Luz, the lighthouse of Luz or of our Lady of Luz was built in 1761 by order of the Marquis of Pombal serving as a complement to the lighthouse of S. Miguel o Anjo. It is of relevance that some years later, during the Porto siege, through the mole of Carreiros located in Foz Nova, it was fundamental for the landing of liberals, as well as the supplying of the city since the Douro river was controlled by the miguelistas. It remained in operation until 1927.


View of the telegraph office and lighthouse located on hill of Senhora da Luz. Source: Porto Arc

Another example is the Sobreiras lighthouse positioned on the hill of Sobreiras where ANJE (National Association of Young Entrepreneurs) is currently located, approximately 560 metres from the S. Miguel o Anjo lighthouse. Nowadays it is only possible to find the place since this maritime surveillance object was moved to the Boa Nova lighthouse in Leça for exhibition in 2006. It is thought that the original lighthouse must have been built in the 18th century. It was also known as the Three Ears Lighthouse or Three Beaks Lighthouse since behind it there was a wall with three battlements very similar to the walls of a fortress. Here you can see where it says "Bar Mark".


Lightouse of Sobreiras. Source: Porto de Antanho

According to the historian and journalist Germano Silva, this lighthouse was also commonly identified as the Marca Nova since there was once a Marca Velha or also known as Torre da Marca. It consisted of a tower, a stone structure considerably high so that it could be seen in the distance - especially after the curve of the Candal hill coming from the Atlantic. Positioned where the Crystal Palace now stands, it replaced a tall pine tree that served the same function. Both the tower and the pine predecessor are almost as old as the São Miguel o Anjo lighthouse. According to available documentation, the pine tree fell in 1533 and the tower was erected in 1542. The latter was standing until the Siege of Porto.


Torre da marca. Source: Blog A Porta Nobre