The rock engravings of Vale do Côa

The rock engravings of Vale do Côa

In the northernmost region of the Guarda district, known as Alto Douro, artistic expressions that are around 25,000 years old embellish the banks of the Douro and Côa rivers.

Just 11 kms from Pocinho, in the municipality of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, is the Vale do Côa Archaeological Park. The banks of the Côa River, a tributary of the Douro, are known for their rock engravings – pieces of the History of our territory that Man engraved on stone about 25,000 years ago.

The visits are full of culture and, for the most daring, there is the possibility of an evening stroll through the Côa engravings.

Parque arqueológico do Vale do Côa

From the discovery of engravings to classification as World Heritage


Long known to people in the region, especially the shepherds or millers who worked on the banks of the river in the Canada do Inferno area, the engravings of the Vale do Côa, were first identified in 1991, by archaeologist Nelson Rebanda, who accompanied the construction of the Côa dam. Made public in 1994, the discovery sparked much debate as the construction of the dam would cause the area to be submerged.

Taking into account the opinion of experts about the artistic and scientific importance of the Côa engravings, the Portuguese government decides to abandon the construction of the dam in 1996. The Archaeological Park of Vale do Côa was created in order to protect and disseminate the artistic wealth and archaeological site.

In 1998, UNESCO classified the rock engraving nuclei as a World Heritage Site, making this treasure of Humanity in the national territory known to the world.

Since its discovery, in the middle of the last decade of the 20th century, until today more than 1200 rocks with engravings have been identified, in an area of about 200 km2 that covers the municipalities of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo, Pinhel and Mêda.

Vale do Côa is the only place in the world to present artistic manifestations from different moments in Prehistory, Protohistory and History, namely the most important set of paleolithic outdoor art known to date.

Gravuras rupestres, Penascosa - Rota do Douro

An open air Paleolithic Art museum


The rock engravings of Côa changed the paradigm of the oldest artistic expression of Humanity, which, until then, was thought to be restricted to underground caves. After its identification, in the middle of the last decade of the twentieth century, it was hypothesized that outdoor rock art was more common. However, due to the various natural erosive agents and human activity over the millennia, its traces will have been erased. Hence the preservation of the archaeological sites in the Côa Valley is so important.

Although there are more than 80 sites with rock art, spread over an extension of about 30 km on the banks of the Côa River and about 15 km along the Douro River, only three engraving cores are open to the public: Canada do Inferno (the first place to be identified), Penascosa and Ribeira de Priscos.

gravuras rupestres, Canada do Inferno - Rota do Douro

The great majority of the rock motifs are located in shale rocks, but we can also find engravings and paintings on granite. The techniques used for engraving were common at the time, similar to techniques identified in engravings found in Spain and France, such as the filiform incision, perforation, abrasion and scraping. As for the themes represented, animals are the most common figures – horses, cows, goats and deer – represented alone or in groups.

Like an open-air museum, the Foz Côa rock engravings are a treasure trove of human history that everyone, regardless of age or artistic sensibility, must visit!