Tuesday, November 17, 2009


This was our second visit to Almeida, which during the Peninsular War guarded the northern corridor against a French invasion from Spain. It stands on the Portuguese side about 15 miles from Cuidad Rodrigo on the Spanish side.

The town wall and fortifications are complete, as are many of the military installations inside the town, including the magazines. It is possible to have a guided tour of the magazines, with their piles of musket balls.

The state run hotel is a modern building with comfortable accommodation and lots of parking. But it is a disappointment after the state run hotel in Cuidad Rodrigo, which is in the castle which was the French headquarters during throughout the war. The hotel is within the town walls, and it was interesting exploring the streets, the site of the explosion and the military buildings. But there was no where to eat or buy a drink, other than the hotel. And that was, as the state run hotels always are, pretty expensive.

The rest of the town is just as you would imagine. I understand that most of the buildings were damaged during the explosion of 26 August 1810, which is probably better known as the setting for Bernard Cornwall's book "Sharpe's Gold". If so they have been repaired and the narrow streets feel much as they must have done on that fateful day. This is the view from our hotel bedroom.

This is a drawing Jan did of the same view from our hotel bedroom

A very quiet town, some of the buildings still bear the scars of the mighty explosion. The only transport I saw inside the town was a donkey drawn cart, which added greatly to the period feel of the town.

In August 1810 the French marched from Salamanca on the long awaited invasion of Portugal. Marshal Ney laid siege to Almeida and Wellington hoped that the garrison would delay them for at least two months. It had provisions to last that lone and a strong Portuguese garrison commanded by Colonel Cox, a British officer.

The town powder magazine was in a large building on a slight hill at the top of the town. The French artillery opened fire on 26 August, and one of the first shots fired somehow exploded the magazine. The town was ripped apart by the force of the explosion, and about five hundred people killed. It is said that not a single buildings was left with a roof though most of the fortifications were undamaged. It is said that because the magazine was on high ground, most of the force of the explosion went above the walls. This photo was taken at the scene of the explosion, which is still covered by the remains of the building.

The whole area where the magazine stood is still bare, no attempt having been made to build again on the spot. The day after the explosion the garrison surrendered and Marshal Ney departed on his long march to Busaco and the Lines of Torres Vedras.

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