A new site will soon give new life to the natural caves of Poço Velho, in the municipality of Cascais, Portugal. The historic necropolis in the town center, the object of curiosity for many decades and for so long closed to the public, will finally open for regular visits on June 7th, the day that marks the 657th anniversary of the municipality.
The caves are on the right bank of the Ribeira das Vinhas, about 500 meters from its mouth, at Praia da Ribeira, in the middle of Cascais. Practically every single resident knows about its existence.
Cascais was born hereHistorical plaque at the entrance of the caves
In the past, the Cascais municipality used to open the caves to visitors on International Museum Day, May 18th, for just a few hours. Many people would sign up yet most of them ended up spending hours in lines, under the sun, waiting for an opportunity that was offered to a very few. Hardly anyone could get in.
“Cascais was born here,” reads a plaque at the entrance of the natural caves. The line is not meant to be taken literally. It has its logic and explanation. They are the place in Cascais where the most ancient vestiges of human existence have been found. The vestiges have shown that the first human beings in the area used the caves as a necropolis
In 1879, the geologist Carlos Ribeiro (considered the “founder” of Cascalense archaeology) explored these caves for the first time, having detected in the sediments that filled its interior archaeological remains ranging from the Paleolithic to Late Antiquity. However, the main occupation was from the Neolithic and Chalcolithic eras (4th and 3rd millennia BC), and it corresponds to the use of the cave as a necropolis, with more than a hundred burials having been identified.
Between 1945 and 1947, the engineer Abreu Nunes promoted new explorations in this archaeological site, then under the management of the Cascais Tourism Board. The excavation work made it possible to collect a diversified set of funerary remains, which included polished and chipped stone artifacts, limestone votive artifacts, decorated schist plaques, adornment elements and ceramics. Some of the remains collected at this archaeological site are on display at the Cascais Town Museum.
With the exception of the occasional openings, the caves had remained closed. Now everything is going to change. According to the municipality, inside the caves there will be circuit with a walkway that will take people to the most interesting part, without harming or threatening anything of the structure of the caves. An innovative lighting system will allow you to see beyond the walkway without damaging the necropolis. This will allow visitors to see the other galleries, all the stalactites and stalagmites, in depth and scale, ensuring safety and comfort.
According to the municipality, the caves will be perhaps one of the first tourist anchors of Portugal. And this is known because in 1880, when the first national archaeology congress was held, these caves were the reason why it was held in Lisbon.
As of June 7th, the regular openings will begin. On the anniversary of Cascais, the caves will be “inaugurated”, as well as the square in front of them, an old parking lot that marked their entrance and has now given way to a square for the population’s enjoyment. There will also be a tribute to Augusto Abreu Nunes, the engineer who took an interest in them, studied them and sealed them in 1950, preventing their imminent destruction.
He was the founder of tourism in the region and a pioneer of tourism in Portugal, and the one who decided to cover up and preserve the caves, saving themMunicipality of Cascais
For the first visits, pre-registration will open a few days before, which will be announced on the municipality’s social networks. This will allow visitors to be divided into groups of 10 – the maximum accepted at a time, for issues related to the preservation of the cave.
Thereafter, the regular visits begin: the caves will be open certain days of the week and hours (yet to be defined). All visits will be booked following the safety norms and with a guide. The management of the site will be given to the D. Luís I Foundation, which has its “Bairro dos Museus” (Museum Quarter) that manages all the cultural sites in the center of Cascais.