Peneda-Gerês National Park
The Park was created in 1971 and forms part of the National Network of Protected Areas, administered by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature, Biodiversity and Forestry (ICNF). The area is officially classified as a National Park (the only protected area in Portugal granted this classification) due to the existence of relatively extensive ecosystems which have not been significantly affected by man. The park features considerable biodiversity and natural values of interest to conservation.
It covers an area of 70,000 hectares spread over 5 municipalities: Melgaço, Arcos de Valdevez, Ponte da Barca, Terras de Bouro and Montalegre. Geographically, the reserve covers the plateaus of Castro Laboreiro and Mourela, between which lie the uplands of Peneda, Soajo, Amarela and Gerês.
The region has a significant human presence and is home to around 9,000 people. Farming and livestock breeding, once the population´s main source of income, have given way to new economic activities with a focus on tourism, heritage and cultural sectors.
Natural Heritage (Geo and Biodiversity)
The National Park lies in a mountainous region with an average altitude of around 700 metres, rising to 1,545 metres at Nevosa (in the Gerês montains).
The land features significant geodiversity due to its geological history, dating back some 400 million years. The uneven and hilly terrain and the granite morphology are the main characteristics of the region, and the landscape features many stacks, borrageiros, mushroom-shaped rocks, tors, granite boulders, sinkholes, among other geological forms. The peaks of the main hills feature traces left by glaciers - U-shaped valleys, glacial cirques, moraines, flakey rocks, all of which bear witness to a climate far colder than today´s. Also worthy of mention are the countless valleys and streams set in a close-knit group ofwatersheds (part of the Minho, Lima, Homem and Cavado river basins), all fed by the highest rainfall levels in the country. Mineral diversity is also considerable in this region, and wolfram, tin, beryllium and even gold have all been mined here in the past. The unique characteristics of the water which flows from the various springs make it suitable for both medicinal purposes and drinking water.
Furthermore, the conditions of the physical environment and the existence of an Atlantic, Mediterranean and continental climate are responsible for the exceptional nature of this protected area in terms of habitats and biodiversity.
The flora of the National Park is a real botanic treasure, featuring species with considerable floral value, such as the Gerês fern, the trumpet daffodil, the Gerês lily, the sundew and butterworts. Many plants are native to the Iberian Peninsula, while this is the only place in Portugal where some other species are to be found. Oak forests, riverside woods, pine forests, peat bogs and bushland are some of the most important habitats and characteristics of the Park.
This botanic diversity is home to an abundance of important wildlife, featuring the presence of emblematic species including the roe deer, the symbol of the National Park, the Iberian wolf, which despite being listed as an endangered species has maintained stable numbers in recent years, and the mountain goat, whose numbers are increasing after having been declared extinct in the late 19th century and reintroduced a little over ten years ago. The region is inhabited by a wide variety of bird species, although many are migratory and are, therefore, only seen at certain times of the year. The most noteworthy of these protected birds are the Montague harrier, the red-billed chough, the whinchat, and the snipe, the last of which uses the PNPG as its only known breeding place in Portugal. Species common to watercourses and riverside environments include the river trout, the bermejuela, the otter, the water mole, the Iberian frog, the gold-striped salamander, the water lizard, among others. Other species of importance inhabiting the Park are the marten, the ermine, the Baskian viper and the horned viper, among many others.
Human occupation and cultural heritage
The PNPG has been inhabited by man since the Neolithic age, to which the major megalithic necropolises, such as the Castro Laboreiro plateau, belong. The rock art is another impressive reminder of a remote past, the most noteworthy of which is the sanctuary of Penedo do Encanto in Lindoso, which dates back to the Bronze Age. The numerous fortified structures built into the hilltops, such as the Castro de Outeiro in the parish of the same name, date back to the pre-Roman age.
The Roman presence, in addition to providing a substantial cultural substratum, is represented by the remnants of different types of utilities, the Geira (Roman road) being an exceptional case due to its fine state of conservation and the number of milestones. The Geira (Roman Road), also known as “Via Nova”, classified as a national monument, was built by the Romans to connect Braga (Bracara Augusta) to Astorga (Asturica Augusta). It extends 30kms through the municipality of Terras de Bouro, with the greatest concentration of milestones registered in the northwest Iberian Peninsula. The Roman Road, almost uninterrupted along its 30km length, has extensive stretches of original pavement, an exceptional number of milestones, the remains of bridges over fast flowing streams, quarries from which the milestones were extracted, views over the surrounding countryside, its setting in the landscape all combine to create a remarkable asset. The number of milestones along the Roman Road, with no comparison in other areas of the Roman Empire, the surrounding woodlands forest enveloping them, create an extraordinary magical environment, appropriately summarized by an Italian archeologist, from the Sapienza University of Rome, in the expression “Foresta di Migliari”.
Evidence of medieval times is provided in the form of grand castles such as Castro Laboreiro and Lindoso, and religion also made its mark, the Monastery of Santa Maria das Júnias being one of the best examples.
Sharing the ancient landscape are more recent manmade constructions designed to withstand the hardships of the mountains. The wolf traps, granaries, mills, communal ovens, canals, pavements and shepherds´ shelters are examples and trademarks of the community spirit which characterised the mountain settlements, and which is still evident today in many traditional activities associated with farming and livestock breeding.
In addition to the physical remains, the intangible heritage of this region is immense, and unique examples of the use of land, religious events and community practices are still in evidence today.