Porto, The lion crushes the eagle: a monument commemorating Porto’s liberation from French occupation

The lion crushes the eagle: a monument commemorating Porto’s liberation from French occupation

Rotunda da Boavista, Porto

The Praça de Mouzinho de Albuquerque in Porto is better known as the Rotunda da Boavista (the Boavista Roundabout), as it is in the middle of a huge roundabout where Avenida da Boavista, Rua de 5 de Outubro, Avenida da França, Rua de Nossa Senhora de Fátima, Rua de Júlio Dinis, Rua de Caldas Xavier and Rua da Meditação all meet. The park is named after Joaquim Augusto Mouzinho de Albuquerque, an army officer of the late-19th century who is considered a hero, as he served in the Portuguese colonies and was governor of India and Mozambique at a time when other European powers were threatening Portuguese control of these countries. It is surprising therefore that the monument in the middle of the park isn’t dedicated to Mouzinho de Alburquerque, but instead, the tall, hard-to-miss column topped by a sculpture of a lion crushing an eagle, the Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular (Monument to the Heroes of the Peninsular War), is a memorial to Porto’s victory over the French during the Peninsular War in 1809.

The war began in 1807 when the Napoleonic French army aided by Spanish troops invaded Portugal. The Portuguese royal family, including Queen Maria I and the Prince Regent João (later to become King João VI), plus many members of the nobility, fled to Brazil leaving the country without any leadership and the Portuguese were unable to put up much resistance to the invasion. This changed in the spring of 1808 when a Spanish revolt against French occupation in Spain led to the Spanish troops being withdrawn from Portugal to join the fight against the French, which in turn sparked a revolt by the Portuguese forces against the French troops in the north of Portugal. However, in February 1809 French troops under the command of Marshal Soult invaded northern Portugal and on 28th March 1809 the Portuguese army fought against the French in what would later be known as the First Battle of Porto. This battle was a huge loss for the Portuguese and was made doubly tragic by the collapse of a bridge, the Ponte das Barcas (Bridge of Barges, a pontoon bridge across the River Douro made up of barges linked together by steel cables which was located near the site of the current Dom Luís Bridge), in which it is estimated that over four thousand civilians who were attempting to escape the city drowned. Things started to improve in April 1809 when the British came to the aid of the Portuguese and they formed the Anglo-Portuguese Army under the command of General Wellesley (who later became the Duke of Wellington). A victory at the Battle of Grijó (in Vila Nova de Gaia) on 11th May, immediately followed by a decisive victory at the Second Battle of Porto (also known as the Battle of the Douro) on 12th May 1809 saw the retreat of the French army into Spain and the liberation of the city of Porto.

The monument to commemorate these events is a remarkable piece of sculpture that works on an aesthetic as much as on a patriotic level. It was originally designed by the architect José Marques da Silva (who also designed Porto’s São Bento station and the Serralves Villa) and the sculptor António Alves de Sousa. Work began on the monument in 1909 but it wasn’t completed until 1951 due to financial difficulties (it was eventually completed by Marques da Silva’s daughter and son-in-law, who took over the project after the death of Marques da Silva in 1947). The top of the 45-metre-high Neo-classical monument is a clearly symbolic representation of the strength of the joint British and Portuguese armies (symbolized by the lion) over the French imperial army (symbolized by the eagle). Lower down the granite column are relief figures of the soldiers who led the fight against the French, while behind them are carved scenes of the war. At the bottom of the monument there are large-scale detailed depictions in bronze of some of the events of the war, including the tragedy of the collapse of the Ponte das Barcas and Victory personified as a woman holding a flag and a sword and leading the people of Porto in triumph.