illustration by Filipa Santos
The influence of the Romans in the Côa region is highly recognizable. It is found in the name itself: 'Côa' derives from cuda, the designation given to this region and its people by the time of the roman empire. The right-side shore of the river is still known today as Ribacoa (municipalities of Sabugal, Almeida and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo). The left-side shore (municipalities of Pinhel, Trancoso and Mêda) was inhabited by the Lanscienses Transcudani, the Transcudan, from the latin transcudani, trans-cuda, since from the point-of-view of Rome the trans-côa ("beyond Côa") would be the west shore.
There were probably two Roman roads, whose remains can still be found in some areas. One would cover the south-north direction and the other the west-east direction. The first would be the most important, since it connected Mérida with Astorga. On its way, it crossed the Côa in the current parish of Cinco-Vilas (where one can still find traces of the road's bridge) and proceeded to Barca da Alva, where the crossing of the Douro would be done by boat.
Text adapted from the chapter Vias Romanas no Território dos "Interannienses", of Manuel Maia, in Beira Interior – História e Património, Guarda, 2000.
Castelo Rodrigo, photo by Susan Gebbink
This region was deeply transformed by the territorial re-organization occurring during the Low Middle Age. The two Iberian kingdoms disputed this bordering zone, forcing the maintenance of human settlements and establishing walled towns as heads of the municipalities.
Until the Alcañices Treaty of 1297, the Côa river defined the border. This way, between the Côa and the Águeda a very particular region took shape: the Riba Côa.
From the Portuguese side, the land repopulation by royal-command started in the decade of 1160. This repopulation progressed towards east and achieved a culminating moment in the end of the 1190s, after the royal charter granted to Guarda. In the first quarter of the following century it reached the line of the Côa in complete, after the repopulation of the towns of Pinhel, Castelo Mendo, Touro and Sortelha. From the Leonese side, the repopulation undertaking ordained by the King of Leão had a similar rhythm but taking the opposite direction, towards west. During the 1160s, the repopulation of Cuidad Rodrigo was started, in what was before a peripheral village from the Salamanca province.
The main towns of Riba Côa, such as Castelo Rodrigo or Castelo Melhor, emerged only in the beginning of the following century. This evolution was a reaction to the growing power of the Portuguese in areas that were previously devoid of a central power, as well as an attempt to define a political space of its own, in a context of intense disputes between the neighboring Christian kingdoms. The Battles of Argañán (1179) and Ervas Tenras (1199) resulted in the increase of the Leonese authority, which conducted a political integration of the local communities through royal charters, which were institutional agreements with the king that offered some autonomy to the communities, turned into municipalities, in exchange for the acceptance of the royal dominion.
Castelo Melhor, photo by João Cosme
During the last medieval centuries, the border suffered a growing control from the kings of both sides, specially of the economic activities through the 'dry ports' and customs. Disputes between Portugal and Castela also occurred, but their bordering municipalities maintained some level of connection. With the end of the Middle Age, the border stopped being perceived as a loose peripheral region, instead starting to form better defined lines, along which certain 'geographical entrances' existed to serve as the routes of access to the kingdom's capital. From the location of the main military disputes from the end of the Middle Age one can identify a certain pattern. The wars occurring during the 17th and 18th centuries and first decade of the 19th century (starting with the Restoration War, passing by the Succession War and ending with the French Invasions) made it even more clear. The interest and investment from the royal powers in the organization of the bordering territory got concentrated on those "geographical entrances", where some of the old towns turned into large military facilities, such as in the cases of Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo.
Adapted from "Coa e Siega Verde. A Arte da Luz".
Sequeiros Bridge, photo by João Cosme
During the Middle Ages, when the Côa River defined the border between the Kingdoms of Portugal and Leão, the crossing of the river was controlled and protected by castles and fortified bridges, which the bridge of Sequeiros is an example of.
This bridge of a Romanesque style is built in granite and supports itself in three round arches. The pillars are strengthen with cutwaters (angular structures that help sustaining the power of the stream). The tower, at one of the end points of the bridge, is common in fortified bridges. Probably it functioned as a military border checkpoint until the signing of the Alcañices Treaty, in 1927, when the region of Ribacôa was ascribed to the Kingdom of Portugal.
The bridge was classified as a Building of Public Interest in 1951, and currently serves only a pedestrian use.
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