Fort of São João Baptista (Berlengas)

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Fort Saint John the Baptist (Forte de São João Baptista)
Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas, Fort of the Berlenga
Fort (Forte)
Official name: Forte de São João Baptista das Berlengas
Named for: John the Baptist
Country  Portugal
Region Centro
Sub-region Oeste
District Leiria
Municipality Peniche
Location Berlenga Grande
 - coordinates 39°24′40.46″N 9°30′36.42″W / 39.4112389°N 9.5101167°W / 39.4112389; -9.5101167Coordinates: 39°24′40.46″N 9°30′36.42″W / 39.4112389°N 9.5101167°W / 39.4112389; -9.5101167
Length 45.35 m (149 ft), West-East
Width 62.15 m (204 ft), North-South
Architects Mateus do Couto
Materials Masonry, Pink granite, Pavement, Wood, Glass, Concrete
Initiated c. 1502
 - Constructed c. 1651
 - Completed c. 1678
Owner Portuguese Republic
For public Private
Visitation Closed
Easiest access Berlenga Grande
Management Instituto Gestão do Patrimonio Arquitectónico e Arqueológico
Operator Câmara Municipal de Peniche, Associação dos Amigos da Berlenga
Status National Monument
Listing Decree 28/536; DG66, 22 March 1938
Wikimedia Commons: Forte de São João Baptista das Berlengas

The Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas, or simply known as the Fort of the Berlengas, is located off western coast of Portugal, on the largest island of the archipelago of the Berlengas, in the municipality of Peniche in Oeste region. The fortification belonged to a group of defensive military structures meant to protect the municipality located on the coast.


19th century plan of the Forte of the Berlengas
View of the north and western facades of the Fort, showing the arched bridge that allows access to the grounds
A view of the Fort, with the cove and anchorage allowing access to the island

King Manuel of Portugal ordered the construction of a fortress on Berlenga Grande in 1502, which was immediately rectified under the reign of King Sebastian of Portugal.[1][2] The fort, was constructed from the remains of a pre-existing monastery (the Monastery of the Misericórdia da Berlenga) which had previously been abandoned. Hieronymite monks had in the early 16th century, decided that the Berlengas were well situated to provide aid for seafearing people in need of shelter.[3] The islands isolation also provided ideal conditions for the monks to live in austerity through solitude and silence, assiduous prayer and healthy penance. But, the monks became victims of frequent attacks by Algerian, Moroccan, English, and French pirates and privateers. Further, violent weather often cut-off communication to the mainland, which was especially distressing during pirate incursions, as result, the Monastery was abandoned.

It was only during the middle of 17th century that construction began, under the administration of John IV of Portugal, after the visit of João Rodrigues de Sá to the island, who, accompanied by a military engineer determined the plan to follow in its construction (in 1651).[2][3][4] Originally during the Portuguese Restoration War, the Counsel of War had determined that a better coastal defense was needed, and had ordered the demolition of the monastery ruins to build the fort.[2] By 1666 construction of the fort had proceed under the direction of engineer Mateus do Couto.[3] That year the Fort of the Berlenga was instrumental in stopping the attack by a Spanish fleet, which was sent to kidnap Queen Maria Francisca of Savoy, on her arrival in Portugal, when she was to be married to King Afonso VI of Portugal. After this attack, the King ordered the repair of the fortress, increasing the firepower of its defenses. Following its destruction by Spanish corsairs in 1666, it was finally completed in 1678 under the command of General Marquês da Fronteira (from an inscription over a gate).[2]

During the French invasion of the peninsula, the outpost served as a base for British troops, although it was the French later who plundered it.[3] In 1821, João VI of Portugal ordered a remodelling of the fort that included the reconstruction of the chapel, which had been burned down during the French assault.[2][3] The fort was also used during the Liberal Wars, serving as a forward base for troops loyal to Pedro IV of Portugal, to attack the fortress of Peniche (then occupied by Miguelist forces).[3] Fourteen years later its armaments were removed, beginning a gradual decline in the fort's state.[3]

In 1953, the fort was repaired and remodelled as part of an attempt to adapt the structure into an inn (Portuguese: pousada).[2][3]

The DGEMN Direcção-Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais (Directorate-General of Buildings and National Monuments) became involved after 1981 in the restoration of the structure, culminating in projects between 1986 and 1987 to consolidate the fortification and make it secure for visitors.[2] The fortress is open to the public during the summer, with guides reserved through the Casa Abrigo.


The fort is located in the waters off the southeastern coast of Berlenga Grande, on a small islet connected to the island by a causeway/arch-bridge and anchorage to the north.[2][3]

The structure is irregular octagon, longer from north to south, with a similarly irregular rectangular structure on this base covered in paved terraces, with a slight incline.[2][3] The two-storey walls serve as both defense and narrow enclosed corridors that circuit its perimeter, broken by several arched windows on the northern and western facades.[2][3] Meanwhile, the southern and eastern facades are broken by an irregular curtain of canon embrasures.[3]

The structures on the exterior wall functioned as the casemates, while the central body functioned as the armory.[2]


  1. ^ Almeida (1943)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Mendonça, Isabel; Matias, Cecília (2009). SIPA, ed. "Forte de São João Baptista/Forte da Berlenga" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: SIPA– Sistema de Informação para o Património Arquitectónico. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l IGESPAR, ed. (2011). "Forte de São João Baptista e os arcos que o ligam à ilha da Berlenga" (in Portuguese). Lisbon, Portugal: IGESPAR-Instituto de Gestão do Património Arquitectónico e Arqueológico. Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 29 January 2011.
  4. ^ Mariano Calado (1991), p.120
  • Almeida, João de (1946), Roteiro dos Monumentos Militares Portugueses (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal
  • DGEMN, ed. (1953), "Forte da Berlenga", Boletim (in Portuguese) (74), Lisbon, Portugal
  • MOP, ed. (1953), Relatório da Actividade do Ministério no ano de 1952 (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: Ministério das Obras Públicas
  • MOP, ed. (1954), Relatório da Actividade do Ministério no ano de 1953 (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: Ministério das Obras Públicas
  • Calado, Mariano (1991), Peniche na História e na Lenda (in Portuguese), Peniche, Portugal