Lines of Torres Vedras

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The Lines of Torres Vedras were lines of forts and other military defences built in secrecy to defend Lisbon during the Peninsular War. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_0

Named after the nearby town of Torres Vedras, they were ordered by Arthur Wellesley, Viscount Wellington, constructed by Sir Richard Fletcher, 1st Baronet, and his Portuguese workers between November 1809 and September 1810, and used to stop Marshal Masséna's 1810 offensive. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_1

The Lines were declared a National Heritage by the Portuguese Government in March 2019. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_2

Development Lines of Torres Vedras_section_0

At the beginning of the Peninsular War (1807–14) France and Spain signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau in October 1807. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_3

This provided for the invasion and subsequent division of Portuguese territory into three kingdoms. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_4

Subsequently, French troops under the command of General Junot entered Portugal, which requested support from the British. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_5

In July 1808 troops commanded by Sir Arthur Wellesley, the later Duke of Wellington, landed in Portugal and defeated French troops at the Battles of Roliça and Vimeiro. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_6

This forced Junot to negotiate the Convention of Cintra, which led to the evacuation of the French army from Portugal. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_7

In March 1809, Marshal Soult led a new French expedition that advanced south to the city of Porto before being repulsed by Portuguese-British troops and forced to withdraw. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_8

After this retreat, Wellesley's forces advanced into Spain to join 33,000 Spanish troops under General Cuesta. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_9

At Talavera, some 120 kilometres (75 mi) southwest of Madrid, they encountered and defeated 46,000 French soldiers under Marshal Claude Victor. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_10

After the Battle of Talavera, Wellington realised that he was seriously outnumbered by the French army, giving rise to the possibility that he could be forced to retreat to Portugal and possibly evacuate. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_11

He decided to strengthen the proposed evacuation area around the Fort of São Julião da Barra on the estuary of the River Tagus, near Lisbon. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_12

Planning Lines of Torres Vedras_section_1

In October 1809, Wellington, drawing on topographical maps prepared by José Maria das Neves Costa, and making use of a report that was prepared for General Junot in 1807, surveyed the area north of Lisbon with Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Richard Fletcher. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_13

Eventually they chose the terrain from Torres Vedras to Lisbon because of its mountainous characteristics. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_14

From north to south great undulations, created peaks that straddled deep valleys, great gullies and wide ravines. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_15

The rugged and inhospitable area offered numerous possibilities for a stubborn rearguard fight from forts on many of the peaks. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_16

Following the decision on the location, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Richard Fletcher ordered the work to begin on a network of interlocking fortifications, redoubts, escarpments, dams that flooded large areas, and other defences. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_17

Roads were also built to enable troops to move rapidly between forts. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_18

The work was supervised by Fletcher, assisted by Major John Thomas Jones, and 11 other British Officers, four Portuguese Army Engineers, and two KGL officers. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_19

The cost was less than £200,000 according to the Royal Engineers, one of the least expensive but most productive military investments in history. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_20

When the results of the surveys by the Royal Engineers were completed, it was possible, in February 1810, to begin work on 150 smaller interlinking defensive positions, using, wherever possible, the natural features of the landscape. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_21

The work received a boost after the loss to the French of the fortress at the Siege of Almeida in August 1810 led to the public conscription of Portuguese labourers. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_22

The works were sufficiently complete to halt the advance of the French troops, who arrived in October of the same year. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_23

Even after the French had retreated from Portugal, construction of the lines continued in expectation of their return, and in 1812 34,000 men were still working on them. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_24

On completion there were 152 fortifications with a total of 648 cannon. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_25

Construction Lines of Torres Vedras_section_2

The work began on the main defensive works on 3 November 1809, initially at the Fort of São Julião da Barra and almost immediately afterwards at the Fort of São Vicente (St. Vincent) overlooking the town of Torres Vedras and at the Fort of Alqueidão on top of Monte Agraço. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_26

The entire construction was carried out in great secrecy and the French never became aware of it. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_27

Only one report appeared in the London newspapers, a major source of information for Napoleon. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_28

It is said that the British government did not know about the forts and was stunned when Wellington first said in dispatches that he had retreated to them. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_29

Even the British Ambassador in Lisbon appears to have been unaware of what was happening. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_30

These defences were accompanied by a scorched earth policy to their north in which the inhabitants were told to leave their farms, destroying all food they could not take and anything else that may be useful to the French. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_31

Although ultimately contributing to the success of the defence, this policy led to high rates of mortality among the Portuguese who had retreated south of the lines. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_32

By some estimates 40,000 died. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_33

Labour for construction of the forts was supplied by Portuguese regiments from Lisbon, by hired Portuguese and, ultimately, through conscription of the whole district. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_34

The 152 works were supervised by just 18 engineers. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_35

The Lines were not continuous, as in the case of a defensive wall, but consisted of a series of mutually supporting forts and other defences that both guarded roads that the French could take and also covered each other’s flanks. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_36

The majority of the defences were redoubts holding 200 to 300 troops and three to six cannon, normally 12-pounders, which could fire canister shot or cannonballs. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_37

Each redoubt was protected by a ditch or dry moat, with parapets, and was palisaded. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_38

By the time the French reached the First Line in October 1810, 126 works had been completed and were manned by 29,750 men with 247 heavy guns. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_39

Wellington did not use his front-line troops to man the forts: instead, manpower was mainly provided by the Portuguese. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_40

Construction continued after the withdrawal of the French and was not fully completed until 1812. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_41

Originally the Second Line was intended to be the main line of defence, 30 km (19 mi) north of Lisbon. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_42

The First Line, or Outer Line, was approximately 10 km (6.2 mi) to north of the Second Line. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_43

The original purpose of the First line was to only delay the French. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_44

In fact, the First Line was not the original plan, the work was only carried out because the defenders were given extra time due to the slow advance of the French Army. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_45

In the end, the First Line succeeded in holding the French and the Second Line was never required. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_46

A Third Line, surrounding the Fort of São Julião da Barra near Lisbon, was built to protect Wellington’s evacuation by sea from the fort. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_47

A fourth line, of which little remains, was built south of the Tagus opposite Lisbon to prevent a French invasion of the city by boat. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_48

First line Lines of Torres Vedras_section_3

Wellington's first idea had been to construct the first line from Alhandra on the banks of the Tagus to Rio São Lourenço on the Atlantic coast, with advanced works at Torres Vedras, Sobral de Monte Agraço, and other commanding points. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_49

The delays to the French arrival, however, enabled him to strengthen the first line sufficiently to warrant aiming to hold it permanently rather than just using it for delaying purposes. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_50

Surveying this line from east to west, the first section from Alhandra to Arruda was about 5 miles (8.0 km) long, of which 1 mile (1.6 km) towards the Tagus had been inundated; another 1 mile (1.6 km) or more had been scarped into a precipice, and the most vulnerable point had been obstructed by a huge abatis. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_51

The additional defences included 23 redoubts mounting 96 guns, besides a flotilla of gunboats to guard the right flank on the Tagus. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_52

This area was under the command of Hill's division. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_53

Defences still visible in this section include the Fort of Subserra. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_54

The second section extended from Arruda to the west of Monte Agraço, which was crowned by the very large fort now known as the Fort of Alqueidão, mounting twenty-five guns, with three smaller forts to support it. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_55

Monte Agraço itself was held by Pack's brigade with Anglo-Portuguese 5th Division (Leith's) in reserve behind it, while the less completely fortified country to the east was entrusted to the British Light Division. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_56

The third section stretched from the west of Monte Agraço for nearly eight miles to the gorge of the river Sizandro, a little to south of Torres Vedras. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_57

This was strengthened by two redoubts which commanded the road from Sobral to Montachique. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_58

Here, therefore, were concentrated the 1st, 4th, and 6th divisions, under the eye of Wellington himself, who established his headquarters at , where he remained from approximately 16 October 1810 to 15 November 1810. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_59

The last and most westerly section of the first line ran from the gorge of the Sizandro to the sea, a distance of nearly 12 miles (19 km), more than half of which, however, on the western side had been rendered impassable by the damming of the Sizandro and by the conversion of its lower reaches into one huge inundation. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_60

The chief defence consisted of the entrenched camp of the Fort of São Vicente, a little to the north of Torres Vedras, which dominated the paved road leading from Leiria to Lisbon. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_61

The force assigned to this part of the Line was Picton's division. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_62

Second line Lines of Torres Vedras_section_4

The second line of defence was still more formidable. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_63

It can broadly be divided into three sections, from the Fort of Casa on the Tagus to Bucelas, from Bucelas to Mafra, and from Mafra to the sea, a total distance of 22 miles (35 km). Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_64

The main forts along this line that remain identifiable are three forts on the Serra da Aguieira that served to support the Fort of Casa in its defence of the River Tagus as well as covering the Bucelas Gorge. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_65

They also exchanged crossfire with the Fort of Arpim to their north, which was a link between the first and second lines as it was close to three other forts designed to protect the road from Bucelas to Alverca do Ribatejo. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_66

To the west of Bucelas was a line of hill-top forts dominated by the Montachique mountain. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_67

The mountain, at an altitude of 408 metres, was not fortified but was defended by what are today known as the Fort of Mosqueiro, the Fort of Ribas and others. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_68

Closer to Mafra, overlooking the town of Malveira, was the Fort of Feira, which was at the centre of a complex of 19 strongholds in the second Line. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_69

Mafra was one of the principle positions on the second line, with its defences being centred around the Tapada or royal park. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_70

Third and fourth lines Lines of Torres Vedras_section_5

In the event of failure even in the face of all these precautions, a very powerful line, 2 miles (3.2 km) long, was thrown up around the Fort of São Julião da Barra on the Tagus estuary to cover a retreat and any embarkation if it became necessary. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_71

This was considered to be the third line. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_72

British ships dominated the Portuguese coast and the Tagus estuary so a waterborne invasion by the French was unlikely. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_73

However, to guard against the possibility that the French would try to by-pass the lines to the north of Lisbon by heading south on the left bank of the Tagus and then approaching Lisbon by boat, a fourth line was built south of the Tagus in the Almada area to hinder a possible invasion coming from the south. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_74

The line was 7.3 kilometres (4.5 mi) long. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_75

It had 17 redoubts and covered trenches, 86 pieces of artillery, and was defended by marines and orderlies from Lisbon, with a total of 7,500 men. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_76

Holding the Lines Lines of Torres Vedras_section_6

The Anglo-Portuguese Army was forced to retreat to the first line after winning the Battle of Buçaco on 27 September 1810. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_77

The French army under Marshal Masséna discovered a barren land (under the scorched earth policy) and an enemy behind an almost impenetrable defensive position. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_78

Masséna's forces arrived at the lines on 11 October and took Sobral de Monte Agraço the following day. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_79

On 14 October the VIII Corps tried to push forward but at the Battle of Sobral they were repelled in an attempt to assault a strong British outpost. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_80

After attempting to wait out the enemy, the lack of food and fodder in the area north of the lines meant that Masséna was forced to order a French retreat northwards, starting on the night of 14/15 November 1810, to find an area that had not been subjected to the scorched earth policy. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_81

In December 1810, fearing a French attempt on the left of the Tagus, a chain of 17 redoubts was constructed from Almada to Trafaria. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_82

However, the French made no movement, and after holding out through February, when starvation really set in, Marshal Masséna ordered a retreat at the beginning of March 1811, taking a month to get to Spain. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_83

Marshal Masséna had begun his campaign with his 65,000 strong army (l'Armée de Portugal). Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_84

After losing 4,000 at the Battle of Buçaco, he arrived at Torres Vedras with 61,000 men in October 1810. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_85

When he eventually returned to Spain in April 1811, he had lost a further 21,000 men mostly from starvation, severe illness and disease. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_86

Casualties had not been helped by the fact that the Iberian peninsula had suffered one of the coldest winters it had ever known. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_87

When the Allies renewed their offensive in 1811, they were reinforced with fresh British troops. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_88

The advance started from the Lines of Torres Vedras shortly after the French retreat. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_89

Although work continued on certain sections of the lines, they saw no further action during rest of the Peninsular War. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_90

Garrisons Lines of Torres Vedras_section_7

The lines were divided up into districts by Wellington in a letter dated 6 October 1810. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_91

Each district was allocated one Captain and one Lieutenant of Engineers: Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_92

Lines of Torres Vedras_ordered_list_0

  1. From Torres Vedras to the sea. HQ at Torres VedrasLines of Torres Vedras_item_0_0
  2. From Sobral de Monte Agraço to the valley of Calhandriz. HQ at Sobral de Monte AgraçoLines of Torres Vedras_item_0_1
  3. From Alhandra to the valley of Calhandriz. HQ at AlhandraLines of Torres Vedras_item_0_2
  4. From the banks of the Tagus, near Alverca, to the Pass of Bucelas, inclusive. HQ at BucelasLines of Torres Vedras_item_0_3
  5. From the Pass of Freixal, near Bucelas to the right of the Pass of Mafra. HQ at Montachique.Lines of Torres Vedras_item_0_4
  6. From the Pass of Mafra to the sea. HQ at Mafra.Lines of Torres Vedras_item_0_5

The total number of troops available to Wellington amounted, exclusive of two battalions of marines around the Fort of São Julião, to 42,000 British, of whom 35,000 were combat ready together with over 27,000 Portuguese regulars, of whom 24,000 were combat ready; about 12,000 Portuguese militia; and 20–30,000 ordenanças, a Portuguese militia force used mainly for guerrilla warfare. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_93

Lastly, the Marquis of la Romana contributed 8,000 Spanish troops to the lines around Mafra. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_94

Altogether, therefore, Wellington had some 60,000 regular frontline troops whom he could depend upon, and 20,000 more who could be trusted to man the lines. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_95

The redoubts of the First Line did not require more than 20,000 men to defend them, which left the whole of the true field-army free not only to reinforce any threatened point but also to make counter-attacks. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_96

To facilitate such movements a chain of five signal-stations was established from one end of the First Line to the other, which allowed a message to be sent along the lines in 7 minutes, or from the HQ to any point in 4 minutes. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_97

The signal stations on the First Line were: Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_98

Lines of Torres Vedras_unordered_list_1

  • Redoubt n.30 close to the ocean (Ponte do Rol)Lines of Torres Vedras_item_1_6
  • Fort of São Vicente at Torres VedrasLines of Torres Vedras_item_1_7
  • Monte do Socorro close to Pêro Negro, Wellington's headquarters.Lines of Torres Vedras_item_1_8
  • Monte AgraçoLines of Torres Vedras_item_1_9
  • Sobralinho, by the River Tagus.Lines of Torres Vedras_item_1_10

while on the Second Line five stations have been identified at: Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_99

Lines of Torres Vedras_unordered_list_2

  • Forts of Serra da AguieiraLines of Torres Vedras_item_2_11
  • Fort of SunivelLines of Torres Vedras_item_2_12
  • Montachique mountain (Cabeço de Montachique)Lines of Torres Vedras_item_2_13
  • Fort of ChipreLines of Torres Vedras_item_2_14
  • Fort of São Julião at EriceiraLines of Torres Vedras_item_2_15

Memorial Lines of Torres Vedras_section_8

A monument commemorating the victory of the Anglo-Portuguese troops over the French armies and the construction of the Torres Vedras Lines was approved in 1874 and finished in 1883. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_100

Somewhat reminiscent of Nelson’s Column in London, the column is topped by a statue of the classical Greek figure of Hercules. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_101

This was executed by the sculptor Simões de Almeida who was also responsible for the Monument to the Restorers in Lisbon. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_102

The column used marble from the parish of Pêro Pinheiro, which is part of the Sintra municipality in Portugal. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_103

The monument was constructed near the village of Alhandra in the municipality of Vila Franca de Xira, on the site of the Boavista redoubt (originally numbered as work Number 3). Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_104

It is close to Work Number 114, the Fort of Subserra (also known as the Fort of Alhandra), which can be visited. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_105

In 1911, two plaques were added to acknowledge the contributions of Sir Richard Fletcher and of José Maria das Neves Costa, on whose original topographic maps Wellington based his plans for the Lines. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_106

Preservation and restoration Lines of Torres Vedras_section_9

Substantial portions of the Lines survive today, albeit in most cases in a heavily decayed condition due to past removal of stones. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_107

Apart from some limited restoration of Fort St. Vincent in the 1960s the Lines had effectively lain abandoned from the end of the Peninsular War to the beginning of this millennium. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_108

In 2001 the six municipalities covered by the Lines (Torres Vedras, Mafra, Sobral de Monte Agraço, Arruda dos Vinhos, Loures and Villa Franca de Xira), together with agencies of what is now the Direção-Geral do Património Cultural (Directorate-General for Cultural Heritage - DGPC), and the Direção dos Serviços de Engenharia (Directorate of Military Engineering) signed a protocol to protect, restore and sustain the Lines. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_109

However, initial work was limited due to lack of resources. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_110

With the bicentennial of the Lines fast approaching the six municipalities set up an inter-municipal platform to move things forward and decided to apply for funding through the EEA and Norway Grants programme. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_111

Funding was granted in 2007. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_112

EEA grants met the costs of 110 projects, while the municipalities funded the work at another 140 sites. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_113

Work involved included removal of excess vegetation, creation or restoration of access, archaeological studies, setting up of information boards, establishment of walking routes, and a Visitors' Centre in each municipality. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_114

This conservation work was awarded the European Union Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards in 2014. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_115

The Leonel Trindade Municipal Museum, Torres Vedras in the centre of the town has a room dedicated to "The Lines" with a good display of information boards and artefacts. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_116

A short distance from the museum just outside of the town, Fort of São Vicente and the Fort of Olheiros have been well conserved, with the former having a visitors' centre open Tue-Sun 10-1pm and 2-6pm. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_117

The visitors' centre has well-produced historic wall displays and a 20 min video. Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_118

Other information centres along the lines are: Lines of Torres Vedras_sentence_119

Lines of Torres Vedras_unordered_list_3

  • Lines of Torres Vedras_item_3_16
  • Fort of CasaLines of Torres Vedras_item_3_17
  • Lines of Torres Vedras_item_3_18
  • , Arruda dos VinhosLines of Torres Vedras_item_3_19
  • Lines of Torres Vedras_item_3_20

See also Lines of Torres Vedras_section_10

Lines of Torres Vedras_unordered_list_4

In fiction Lines of Torres Vedras_section_11

Lines of Torres Vedras_unordered_list_5


Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lines of Torres Vedras.