The Côa Museum

Côa Museum. Photo: António Jerónimo
Côa Museum. Photo: António Jerónimo

The Côa Museum, it was designed by two architects - Camilo Rebelo and Tiago Pimentel – and it was inaugurated in July 2010 and is one of the largest Portuguese museums. The building is located at the top of a high slope, defined by the confluence of the two world heritage valleys on the region: the Côa Valley Prehistoric Art  and the Douro Wine Landscape. 



Côa Museum, Room E. Photo: Pedro Xavier
Côa Museum, Room E. Photo: Pedro Xavier

Despite its size, the museum it is perfectly incorporated into the surrounding landscape. The building is similar to a giant block of schist and according to the descriptive memory contained in the project, the Museum's "unique presupposition" it is perfect "integration into the landscape", converting its body, although in a "strong and affirmative gesture", into a "subtle, sensitive to topography, little modifying the profile of the hill and in dialogue with the landscape".

Côa Museum, Room E. Photo: António Jerónimo
Côa Museum, Room E. Photo: António Jerónimo

This Museum does not fit into a "traditional" museological approach composed of "collections". The Côa Valley rock art can be appreciated in the exhibition area, through replicas of engraved panels, interactive information and educational activities to present the rock art, particularly the Paleolithic art, and its archaeological context, thus serving as a gateway to the "real" Museum: the open air rock art sites.

Côa Museum, Room F. Photo: Jaime António
Côa Museum, Room F. Photo: Jaime António

CÔA VALLEY ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK

In 1991, during the construction of the Côa dam, the archaeologist Nelson Rebanda identified the first panel in the Côa Valley. Although the public announcement only took place in 1994, the discovery soon provoked a huge discussion, as the construction of the dam, would cause the submersion of the Côa Valley rock art.

After two years of intense discussion among members of the scientific and political community, it was in 1996 that the Portuguese government, at the time led by António Guterres, and taking into account the experts' opinion on the artistic and scientific importance of the rock art of the Côa Valley and the large number of sites (the largest open-air rock art site known in the world), decided to abandon the construction of the dam and create the Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley, with the mission of “managingpreservingresearching and showing to the public the rock art”.

Côa Valley. Photo: José Paulo Ruas
Côa Valley. Photo: José Paulo Ruas

On 2 December 1998, UNESCO classified the rock art of the Côa Valley as World Heritage, the fastest classification in the history of this international organization. 
With this joint decision between UNESCO and the Portuguese Government, the in situ protection of the rock art of the Côa Valley, was guaranteed.
Currently, the Archaeological Park it is a territory with 200 km2, more than 80 sites with rock art  in an extension of more than 45 km along the Côa and Douro Valleys, and more than 1300 panels, make this site the largest collection of rock art known in the world, in the open air.

Open-air rock art sites open to the public

At the present time, the Côa Park Foundation - created in 2011 to manage the Côa Valley Archaeological Park and the Côa Museum - has 3 sites for regular public visitation.

All visits to the Côa Valley Archaeological Park are accompanied by specialized guides, and the visitors are transported in a four-wheel drive vehicle of the Côa Foundation or its partners.

Canada do Inferno


Canada do Inferno
is located on the left bank of the Côa river, near Vila Nova de Foz Côa, in the area where the abandoned Côa dam was being built. Located in an old fluvial beach, now covered by the Pocinho reservoir, it is possible to view 4 panels with Paleolithic motifs (aurochs – wild caw, horses and an ibex), mostly obtained by fine line incision, pecked and abraded technique, dated from more than 20 000 years.

A group visiting Canada do Inferno. Photo: António Jerónimo
A group visiting Canada do Inferno. Photo: António Jerónimo

Site characteristics

Place of departure: Côa Museum in Vila Nova de Foz Côa

Total walking distance: 800 meters

Difficulty: easy/medium

Duration of the visit: 1h30 to 2h00

Better visibility: morning

Online booking: https://arte-coa.pt/en/produto/canada-do-inferno/  

Panels No.1 and No. 3 of Canada do Inferno rock art site. Photos: Ken Williams
Panels No.1 and No. 3 of Canada do Inferno rock art site. Photos: Ken Williams

Penascosa


Penascosa rock art panels are located on the right bank of the Côa River and the visit departs from the village of Castelo Melhor, at the Park’s Reception Center.
The visit follows a dirt road along 6 kilometers between fields planted with almond trees, olive trees and vineyards. This site is the most visited in the Côa Valley, not only for its easy access, but also for being the most intelligible of the three sites.
Most of these engravings were created using abrasion and pecking techniques and are dated from the oldest phase of the Paleolithic, making this place perfect to get to know some of the most impressive characteristics of the Côa art; the superposition of engravings and the extraordinary representation of movement. 

 

Castelo Melhor Reception Center. Photo: António Jerónimo
Castelo Melhor Reception Center. Photo: António Jerónimo

Site characteristics

Place of departure: Côa park’s Reception Center at the village of Castelo Melhor (village is located 15 Kilometers from Vila Nova de Foz Côa).

Total walking distance: 600 meters

Difficulty: very easy

Duration of the visit: 1h30

Better visibility: In the afternoon or during the night (using artificial light)

Online booking: https://arte-coa.pt/en/produto/penascosa/

Left: Panel No. 3, Movement representation, Penascosa Rock art Site. Photo: António Jaime. Right: Visits in Penascosa. Photo: António Jerónimo
Left: Panel No. 3, Movement representation, Penascosa Rock art Site. Photo: António Jaime. Right: Visits in Penascosa. Photo: António Jerónimo

Ribeira de Piscos


Ribeira de Piscos rock art site is located around the mouth of this left bank tributary of the Côa River. The tour starts at the Côa Museum and after passing through the village of Muxagata, the visit follows a dirt road for 6 km.

This is the place with the most dispersed panels, but the only one that provides the visualization of a rare human figure dated from the Paleolithic, a representation of two horses with crossed heads and three large aurochs, on a scale very close to the real size.

 

Piscos Mam Drawing
Piscos Mam Drawing

Site characteristics

Place of departure: Côa Museum, in Vila Nova de Foz Côa – Portugal

Total walking distance: 2200 meters

Difficulty: medium/hard

Duration of the visit: 2h30 to 3h00

Better visibility: Morning

Online booking: https://arte-coa.pt/en/produto/ribeira-de-piscos/  

Left: Panel No. 1, Ribeira de Piscos (horses with crossed heads). Photo: António Jerónimo. Right: Visit in Ribeira de Piscos. Photo: José Paulo Ruas
Left: Panel No. 1, Ribeira de Piscos (horses with crossed heads). Photo: António Jerónimo. Right: Visit in Ribeira de Piscos. Photo: José Paulo Ruas

Other visits to the Archaeological Park

Kayak Visits


This visit, one of the most requested during spring and summer season in the Côa Valley, allows combining physical activity with leisure and rock art with the fauna/flora of the region. This activity starts at the rock art center of Canada do Inferno, passing through the site of Vale de Figueira and ends at the Fariseu (an exclusive visit to this modality), where recently the largest open-air engraving in the world was discovered, a aurochs with 3.5 meters. This is the place where a picnic is served, with some typical regional snacks, which allows the participants to recover energy, to make the return trip to the starting point. 

Kayak Visit. Photo: António Jerónimo
Kayak Visit. Photo: António Jerónimo

Joint Visit Ribeira de Piscos + Quinta da Ervamoira (Ramos Pinto)

This activity is composed by a visit to one of the Côa Valley Rock Art Nucleus (Ribeira de Piscos or Penascosa, being this place only possible to visit when the Côa river is allowed to cross) and a visit to the Quinta da Ervamoira museum, were it is possible to taste Port wine, eat some dried fruits and lunch (optional). 

Ervamoira-Ramos Pinto. Photo: António Jerónimo
Ervamoira-Ramos Pinto. Photo: António Jerónimo

Joint Visit Penascosa & Faia Brava Reserve

This program consists of a visit to the Faia Brava Reserve, Penascosa rock art site and Côa Museum.

The first part of the program starts with a visit to the Trilho dos Biológos - Faia Brava, the only Private Protected Area in Portugal. During this tour it is possible to observe the large birds, the herds of horses and maroon cows that roam freely into the reserve. In the afternoon it's time to visit Penascosa and to finish the program, the visitors make a (free) visit to the Côa Museum.

Faia Brava Reserve. Copyright: Faia Brava
Faia Brava Reserve. Copyright: Faia Brava