Around 3,000 people have signed a petition against controversial plans to remove a stretch of the Lisbon aqueduct. The Ministry of Transport and Public Works claims that nearly 300 metres of the 18th century Baroque aqueduct will have to be demolished to improve the flow of traffic onto Lisbon’s orbital motorway, the Circular Regional Interna de Lisboa (CRIL).
However, campaigners are up in arms over the plan, claiming it is unnecessary as a new proposed stretch of road could be tunnelled under the famous Grade I listed landmark.
Dra. Margarida Ruas Gil Costa, the Portuguese representative of the European Museum Forum (EMF) and director of Lisbon’s Water Museum (EPAL), says: “This monument has an immense historic and cultural value for the Portuguese as a waterway in its entirety. It can only work as a whole and has all the conditions to be listed and protected as a World Heritage Monument – it is unique. It is in the Guinness Book of Records and is an engineering feat in the same way as the protected 18th century canal system network is in England.”
The section that the government wants to demolish is known as the Aqueduto de Franceses.It is largely buried underground, apart from the famous stone conical ventilation towers that are visible.
A 108-metre section of the Aqueduto Principal is also in danger. The stretch is located where the CRIL is to be extended between Damaia and Pontinha, joining it onto the IC16.
A cheap sustainable source of water
Although the Lisbon aqueduct is no longer used to supply the city with drinking water, it could provide a cheap, ecologically sustainable and natural source of water for the city’s other needs, says a leading pressure group.
Lisbon-based architect, Filipe Lopes, of the Preservation and Rehabilitation of Urban Lisbon Heritage Group, who has worked tirelessly to protect the Baroque monument from further destruction, told The Resident that years of poor town planning on the Sintra line has contaminated the spring water en-route to Lisbon with sewage and other effluent. This means that it cannot be used for human consumption. “But it is absurd to wreck the integrity of a system like this,” he explained. “It is perfectly possible to get it up and running, and use the water to clean the streets, water Lisbon’s parks and gardens, and flush the drains and sewers through.”
Lopes has proposed that the government buries the planned 300-metre stretch of road in an underpass, at a depth of 800 metres, which may, in fact, cost slightly less money and be viable from an engineering point of view.
His architectural proposals and copies of the petition were sent, in July, to the President of the Republic, The Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Public Works and scores of câmaras, including Oeiras, Amadora, Sintra and Odivelas.
So far, all letters have been either ignored or simply acknowledged, with the exception of Amadora Câmara. Its Department of Transport officer, Gabriel Oliveira, does not believe that demolishing the aqueduct will solve the traffic problem. “The alterations proposed by the Portuguese Roads Institute (IEP) will only be superficial and cosmetic, without tackling the real problem of traffic congestion on and off the IC16 and 19,” he explained. Instead, he proposes that the road extension should cross Bairro de Santa Cruz in Benfica, with a tunnel under the aqueduct continuing as far as Damaia.
Oliveira believes: “Our solution to the problem is much cheaper and will safeguard the aqueduct while uniting the CRIL and the IC16 on one stretch of road between Pontinha and the Benfica roundabout.”
A catch 22 situation
While the various opponents of the scheme work hard to save the famous aqueduct, Dra. Margarida Gil Costa says that the only way it can be saved is if it is classified as a World Heritage Monument. She has written to that entity and to the EU with that aim.
However, those seeking to preserve the monument in its entirety are faced with a catch 22 dilemma. In order for the monument to be completely protected, the request for the aqueduct to be listed must come from the Portuguese government. “It’s unthinkable that anything like this could ever happen in the UK, France or Germany, but then this is Portugal,” laments Filipe Lopes. Chris Graeme