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Scientific Expedition 1881

The first expedition to Serra da Estrela took place in the year 1881, organized by the Society of Geography of Lisbon and had several distinguished members of this association: Dr. Martins Sarmento and doctor Sousa Martins. The objective was to carry out a scientific exploration of one of the most inhospitable areas of the country, very little knowned until then. In addition to this study, it was as a consequence of the 1881 expedition that Dr. Sousa Martins drew the attention of scientific circles to the excellent climatic conditions offered by that region to the treatment of tuberculosis. It was from this date that the reputed doctor defended the construction of several health houses in the area. It will be after 1889 that a large quadrangular stone landmark crowned by pinnacles and engraved on each side with inscriptions alluding to the Expedition of the Society of Geography, and several Monuments were put up on the road next to the old sanatorium of Penhas da Saúde, to the various stages that preceded the construction of the sanatorium, referring to the foundation of the first health home for the treatment of tuberculosis.

The Original Mountain Expedition

August 1, 1881

At 8:15 p.m., a group of 42 enthusiastic expeditioners set out from the Northern Gare of Lisbon (Santa Apolónia) with the expectation of an exploratory trip to Serra da Estrela, a region that was still unknowned, wild and largely uninhabited, that it used to contained within itself myths and mysteries. They took place under the warm welcome of a large number of representatives of the Council of Ministers, the president and first secretary general of the Geography Society of Lisbon, the director and some lenses of the Medical-Surgical School and a large number of members of the press and high schools. They set off energetically, knowing that they would confront the forces of the natural elements and not the beasts of Africa. The twenty-three carriages carried men dressed in flannel sweaters, winter coats, two English blankets, and boots of enormous size. Eduardo Coelho, the correspondent and director of Diário de Notícias newspapper, quipped, already writing from the hills, that he was “all the wool of a sheep flock upon us! Put on this revolver, for wolves, bacon for the vipers. ”

Serra da Estrela, at the time also called Montes Hermínios, was a region whose fascination led sometimes to be traveled by small groups motivated by adventure and its singularities.

One of the immediate objectives of the expedition of 1881 was to establish the meteorological station, one of the first in Europe. The program for this installation was carefully prepared by Sousa Martins, as the medical sciences worked innovatively in the prospective areas of altitude sickness, medical climatology, flora applied to the pharmacopoeia and meteorology, which would certify the later installation of the Sanatorium.

The Organizing Committee had obtained the political support of the Government and the municipalities would be decisive for the accomplishment of the expedition, without which it would not have been possible for the Society of Geography of Lisbon to promote a project of this magnitude that would last 19 days with about 100 men. Comprehensive laboratories were set up with the scientific equipment and instruments of each specialized section, some of which were built and acquired expressly for the mission. Estrela was the object of study, became a laboratory and had the largest multidisciplinary concentration of scientists to date in Portugal.

The expeditionaries would only carry a small carry-on bag, which might include some personal items and select foodstuffs to consume in the fifteen days of mountain stay, and a stick to the rough roads. In the covering of the summit of the mountain, each expeditionary would find a board-stretcher and two blankets for bed; a basin of clay for washing; a kettle for cooking rations; a canteen for wine ration.

There was a strictly military diet, and everyone was warned at the outset: “Let the gourmands, if any go, do not create illusions. They will be satisfied with a simple ranch and rations. There will be dawn and silence at the sound of a bugle. ”

Every day, fresh news arrived in Lisbon. Diário de Notícias gave a detailed, step-by-step report, with the information of the postal telegrams and the chronicles of Eduardo Coelho sent by Seia. Telegrams received in the Newsroom were placed in consultation with other national newspappers.

The days follow, the expeditioners walk several kilometers on foot, overcoming mountain gorges. They only rest when they sleep at night. In an environment of joyful camaraderie, the different sections consume time, researching, collecting, measuring and photographing the elements. The medical section was distinguished by the competition of visitors, by the scientific instruments and by the singularity of Sousa Martins, who, in green camp captain, made clinical, observations, experiments and surgeries to the villagers who approached him.

The excursions were surprising, especially in the lagoons, with the demystification of the dark lagoon, previously imagined without end, to communicate with the sea. The group was entranced by their position, “separated from each other by a granite strip of a few meters in length, outlined by beautiful junipers,” in a setting of remarkable beauty, and without “monsters of the abyss and the enchanted Moor,” figures that evaded the imagination of scientists before this pioneering experience. The group was amazed: the horizon seemed infinite.

There were unusual dinners and even a procession at the end to return, among the sections, the scientific instruments, which were raised to the place of Saints. The local population was, in fact, a determining partner, appearing en masse in the camp and contributing to medical evaluations and sharing legends and stories, true and fictionalized. Some of these remain, like the imagination of those who still adventure, under the dream of wanting and knowing, believing that the mountain is still much more than the wealth of information that this scientific experience left us and that, in these days, we recreated , also with adventure, party, rockets, music, dinners, picnic, exhibitions and, above all, with the local people.

Through the lands of Manteigas, Seia and Guarda, we relive old steps, in a privileged stage to live unique experiences, surrounded by the nobility of landscapes, vertiginous slopes, sculpted lagoons and stones, glacial valleys, thermal waters, pure air and crystalline silence. Discreet but contagious, the Serra da Estrela was an adventure for more than a century and today contains in it the tourism of the future, where the scientist reveals himself to the full extent of his gaze.


Article made using the report made by Helena Gonçalves Pinto in the Diário de Notícias newspaper.

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