Last week I went on a college field trip which lasted for three long days. We went to visit several hill forts, or castros, as we call them in our native tongue, around the watershed of the Ave river in the north-western Portugal, as well as a few other amazing places to break the routine.
A hill fort (or a castro) is a fortified settlement- or in this case, ruins of a settlement-, typically of the Bronze and Iron Ages and elevated for defensive advantage. They usually follow the contours of a hill and feature at least one defensive wall, along with stone roundhouses (traditionally in granite). Celts lived in these settlements at least until the Roman conquest.
Although there are infinite castro ruins out there in the Iberian Peninsula (and north-western Europe), few are those which have been deeply studied and excavated here in Portugal. Most of the ruins I visited during this trip are not actually 'visitable' at this time; in fact, we didn't know about their existence until we were told about them. And a couple of them, we couldn't even see them. Some ruins are completely covered, others in a bad condition. But the one I'm showing you guys today is in good condition to visit and a delight to explore!
The hill fort of Briteiros (or Citânia de Briteiros) has a great archaeological significance for its size and urbanism. It has been studied since 1874 when the Portuguese archaeologist Francisco Martins Sarmento discovered the ruins and began excavation campaigns. The visitable ruins of this oppidum (latin term for these larger Iron Age settlements) cover an area of about 7 hectares, but the whole acropolis is known to cover around 24 hectares in total. Unfortunately, while most of the ruins are currently covered, a portion of them has already been lost to the construction of the road leading to the hill where the castro is located.
Alas, this trip has been quite enriching as we are about to make an attempt to valorize and promote this kind of cultural heritage, as well as its associated landscape and natural values. There are many issues to attend to, even in Briteiros which is currently one of the best castros to visit... so let's see how this will go! I'm not done yet with this trip so keep an eye out for the next couple of Wanderlust Wednesdays. :)
All the best,