Royal Fort of Príncipe da Beira

Royal Fort of Príncipe da Beira

Costa Marques, Rondônia, Brazil

Military Architecture

Effective work on the fort named Príncipe da Beira began in early 1775; the region had been explored and surveyed throughout the previous year. The highest ranking engineering officer in the captaincy, Captain Salvador Franco da Mota, died in June of that year while surveying the River Madeira. Domingos Sambucetti replaced him in coordinating operations and was charged with overseeing construction of the new fort, which was built at the site he had proposed in 1772. Between April 1775 and his death in January 1777, he carried on a useful and interesting correspondence with Governor Luís de Albuquerque de Melo Pereira e Cáceres, reporting in detail on the project’s progress. The “regular square of 80 braças per side fortified according to the Vauban method” combined the governor’s speculations and the practical and theoretical action of the engineer. The first series of tasks was undertaken in two different environments: the quarry where the stone was gathered, and the site of the fort, where the initial ground clearing and levelling was under way. After the barracks and storage areas were finished, with the fortress site now prepared, it was completely “delineated” on the ground, with stakes indicating the placement of walls and bastions, after which the ditch was dug. All this work was done before the ceremony of laying the “first stone” on 20th June, 1776, celebrated in the famous Act of Foundation. After Sambucetti died, supervision of the fort’s construction passed to José Pinheiro de Lacerda. The work continued until the end of the century, but at a slower pace. Various illustrations depict the progress. Besides the four bastions, the plans also called for an external battery, which was never built. In 1799, according to the plans sent to the court, the bastions and most of the internal buildings were finished, while the covered passageway around the fort, the aqueduct and all the external work remained to be done. The number and placement of the buildings within the fort were modified several times during the course of construction. The plan eventually used was the one drawn up in 1780 by José Pinheiro de Lacerda. The complex comprised 16 buildings arranged in two concentric lines around the base-square determining the fortress’s design. The first line was for officers’ lodgings, the governor’s house, the chapel and accommodation for the chaplain and surgeon. The second line comprised large rectangles containing the company barracks, weaponry and gunpowder magazines, and the hospital. The hierarchical scheme is obvious and the building distribution functional; also evident is the ‘”correctness” of the plan – almost canonical, with everything needed for the fort to function designed as recommended by the respective treatises. This can also be seen in the design of the entrance gate, for which at least three proposals were made. The one finally chosen includes a round-arched entrance topped by a tripartite pediment, which does not understate the monumental intention of the project. The interior’s constructions have cornerstones and door and window frames in carved stone blocks, while the walls are built of irregular stone masonry, which must have been plastered and probably painted. The finely carved stone of the walls remains in its naturally dark colour, lending an imposing appearance to what remains of the fort, even though it is now in ruins. The fort was listed in 1950. In 1985, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation offered the Brazilian authorities a renovation project which was not implemented.

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