The Côa Valley is situated on the banks of the Côa River in the mountains of north-eastern mainland Portugal. This river, full of history on its banks, flows into the Douro River.
Through these schistose rock valleys, stretching for several kilometres, are panels of art with engravings that have survived thousands of years and have survived to the present day.
Originating in the Upper Palaeolithic, these open-air panels are evidence of settlement, mastery of design, energy and traces that have brought more than twenty thousand years of art to everyday life. This huge gallery is not only marked by the Neolithic and Iron Age periods, but also by the Modern Age where religious representations, names and dates are clearly visible since more recent years.
These engravings represent mainly animalistic figures – although there are known to be some human and also abstract representations. However, the most representative creatures are horses and bovines. But some representative cores of caprids and cervids also appear. Some animals appear alone and others in groups.
These engravings have always been seen by the millers and shepherds of the area, leaving their own “mark” alongside those that existed long ago. In the 30s of the 20th century, a “son of the land” reported in a newspaper article about some engravings that he had discovered in the meantime.
But it was only in 1995 that this discovery was taken more seriously, during the sequence of works that were to be carried out (in part) with the construction of the dam on the Côa River. The situation caused quite a stir, but after the Government declared the suspension of the dam, the Côa Valley was soon classified as a national monument, with the various “sites” identified over a vast area. For there was the largest open-air museum of the Palaeolithic in the world.
This important classification was soon afterwards recognised by UNESCO, which considered it a World Cultural Heritage Site.
In 2011, the Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley is created, based in Vila Nova de Foz Côa. The aim is to manage visits to the engravings, protect them, musealise them and put them on public display in the Côa Valley.
Guided tours are available to three agglomerations: Ribeira de Piscos/Fariseu (from Muxagata), Canada do Inferno (from Vila Nova de Foz Côa) and Penascosa (from Castelo Melhor) – the latter can also be seen at night. At the Côa Museum, opened in 2010, reservations can be made for field trips to the three sites open to the public.