Fort of São João Baptista (Portugal)

Centro Region of Portugal     See list of castles in Portogallo

The human occupation of Berlenga Grande (unique inhabitable) goes back to Antiquity, being marked as island of Saturn by the Roman geographers. Later it was visited by Muslim navigators, vikings, French and British corsairs.

In 1513, with the support of Queen D. Leonor, monks of the Order of St. Jerome settled there to offer assistance to navigation and to the victims of frequent shipwrecks on that Atlantic coast, which was besieged by privateers, and founded the Monastery of the Mercy of Berlenga , in the place where, since 1953, there is a restaurant. However, food shortages, illnesses and the constant assaults of Moroccan, Algerian, English and French pirates and corsairs have made it impossible for the brothers to retreat, often incommunicado due to the inclement nature of the sea.

In the context of the Restoration War, under the rule of King João IV (1640-1656), the War Council determined the demolition of the ruins of the abandoned monastery and the use of its stones in the construction of a fortification to defend that strategic point the coast. Although he ignores the date on which the works were begun, as early as 1655, when still under construction, he successfully withstood his first assault, when he was bombarded by three Turkish flag vessels.

In 1666, in the context of the attempted abduction of the French princess Maria Francisca Isabel de Saboia, fiancée of Afonso VI (1656-67), a Spanish squadron composed of 15 boats attempted to conquer the fort, defended by an effective of little more than two dozens of soldiers under the command of Cabo António Avelar Pessoa. In a combined operation of naval bombardment and land landing, the attackers lost, in only two days, 400 soldiers on land and 100 on the ships (against one dead and four wounded by the defenders), being sunk the Covadonga ship and seriously damaged another two, sunk in the return to Cádiz. Betrayed by a deserter, with no more ammunition and supplies, the plaza finally surrendered itself by losing nine of its artillery pieces captured by the invaders.

At the time of the Peninsular War, it was used as a base of support by the English forces, in a guerrilla campaign in which the population of Peniche actively collaborated.

Later it underwent works of restoration, with the rebuilding of the Chapel in its interior.

During the Portuguese Civil War (1828-1834), the fortress was in the hands of the partisans of Miguel I of Portugal (1828-1834). With artillery deficiency, however, they did not resist in the face of the assault of the liberals who used it as a base for the assault on the citadel of Peniche, a stronghold of the miguelistas.

With no greater military value, in the face of the evolution of warfare in the nineteenth century, it was disrupted (1847) and abandoned and used as a support base for commercial fishing.

In the mid-twentieth century was partially restored and opened to tourism adapted as a guesthouse. At the moment it works like house-shelter, under the management of the Association of the Friends of Berlengas.

Images of the castle

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Useful infos

Latitude: 39.4113707
Longitude: -9.5101425
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Map of Fort of São João Baptista