Fortaleza de Sagres


Blank, hulking and forbidding, Sagres’ fortress offers breathtaking views over the sheer cliffs, and all along the coast to Cabo de São Vicente. Legend has it that this is where Prince Henry the Navigator established his navigation school. It's quite a large site, so allow at least an hour to see everything.

Inside the gate is a huge, curious stone pattern that measures 43m in diameter. Named the rosa dos ventos (literally, a pictorial representation of a compass), this strange configuration is believed to be a mariner’s compass or a sundial of sorts. Excavated in 1921, the paving may date from Prince Henry’s time but is more likely to be from the 16th century.

The precinct’s oldest buildings include a cistern tower to the east, a house and the small, whitewashed, 16th-century Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça, a simple barrel-vaulted structure with a gilded 17th-century altarpiece. Take a closer look at the tiled altar panels, which feature elephants and antelopes.

Many of the gaps you see between buildings are the result of a 1960s spring clean of 17th- and 18th-century ruins that was organised to make way for a reconstruction (later aborted) that was to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death.

Its visitors centre contains a gift shop, an exhibition centre and a cafe.

It's a great walk around the perimeter of the promontory; information boards (in English and Portuguese) shed light on the rich flora and fauna of the area. Don't miss the limestone crevices descending to the sea, or the labyrinth art installation by Portugal's famous sculptor-architect Pancho Guedes.

Near the southern end of the promontory is a lighthouse. Death-defying anglers balance on the cliffs below the walls, hoping to land bream or sea bass.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Sagres attractions

1. Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graça

0.07 MILES

Within the Fortaleza de Sagres, this small whitewashed church dating from 1570 is a simple barrel-vaulted structure with a gilded 17th-century altarpiece…

3. Fortaleza da Baleeira

1.23 MILES

Above the fishing port, all that remains of the tiny 16th-century Fortaleza da Baleeira is an archway and part of the walls.

4. Praia do Martinhal

1.69 MILES

One of the prettier beaches in the Sagres area, 2.5km northeast of the centre, Martinhal is backed by a resort development, so it's a little complex to…

5. Fortaleza do Beliche

2.63 MILES

Built in 1632 on the site of an older fortress, Fortaleza do Beliche is 4.8km northwest of the town centre, and 1.2km southeast of the lighthouse at Cabo…

6. Cabo de São Vicente

3.05 MILES

Europe’s southwesternmost point is a barren headland 6km northwest of Sagres' town centre that was the last piece of home that Portuguese sailors once saw…

7. Farol de São Vicente

3.09 MILES

The lighthouse complex at Cabo de São Vicente contains a small but excellent museum that gives a good overview of Portugal’s maritime-navigation history,…

8. Praia do Amado

11.76 MILES

Known for its exposed, left- and right-handed beach breaks that work year-round, surfer favourite Praia do Amado is 2.3km southwest of the town square.