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Foz Côa dam at Guarda, Portugal

“The engravings cannot swim”: local communities and protest movements stop the construction of dams that would endanger the country’s cultural heritage


The project to build a hydroelectric power plant in the Côa Valley threatens to submerge 17 square kilometers in the area where the Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley is located.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Foz Côa dam at Guarda, Portugal
State or province:Guarda, Trás-os-Montes
Location of conflict:Vila Nova de Foz Côa
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Installed capacity of the proposed project: 163 GWh

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:7,000
Start of the conflict:1991
End of the conflict:1995
Company names or state enterprises:Energias de Portugal (EDP) from Portugal - Project developer
Relevant government actors:Ministério da Indústria e Energia, Ministério do Ambiente, Secretaria da Cultura, Instituto Português do Património Arquitectónico (IPPAR), UNESCO
International and Finance InstitutionsInternational Committee on Rock Art (CAR)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Associação Juvenil Olho Vivo
Associação para Defesa das Gravuras Rupestres do Foz Côa
Côa Vivo
Grupo de Estudo do Ordenamento do Território e Ambiente (GEOTA)
Movimento de Salvaguarda da Arte do Côa
Associação Nacional de Conservação da Natureza (Quercus)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Other socio-economic impactsLoss of cultural heritage
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Application of existing regulations
Project cancelled
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The dam was not built and the historical and natural heritage was preserved, therefore the two main claims from the EJOs were fulfilled
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Decreto-Lei n.º 35/2011 de 8 de Março Ministério da Cultura, Parque Arqueológico de Vale do Côa (PAVC)

Decreto-Lei n.º 6/2013 de 6 de maio Monumento nacional - alteração da classificação do conjunto de sitios arqueologicos no vale do rio coa

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

GOMES, Rui T. A casa de Foz Côa: percurso de um símbolo na definição de políticas culturais em Portugal. Agora, 2013.

GONÇALVES, Maria E. O caso Foz Côa. Um laboratório de análises sociopolíticas. Edições 70: Lisboa, 272 p. 2001.

GOMES, Rui T. O caso de Foz Côa: percurso de um símbolo na definição de políticas culturais em Portugal. Agora, 2013.
[click to view]

OOCITIES. Form the dam to the park. Special Côa: palaeolithic rock engravings at Vermelhosa, Côa Valley archaeological park.
[click to view]

SILVA, António J. M. A batalha do Côa. As gravuras paleolíticas do Vale do Côa. Coimbra, Mar. 1996.
[click to view]

ALMEIDA, Henrique. Arqueologia vs desenvolvimento? Sobre as margens de um rio que ecoa. Máthesis, v. 5, p. 213-235, 1996.
[click to view]

CALDWELL, Duncan. A Call to Arms to save the largest open-air assemblage of Upper Paleolithic art in Europe from being drowned NOW behind a rising dam at Foz Côa, Portugal. 2014.
[click to view]

FERREIRA, Maria de Fátima; GONÇALVES, Maria Eduarda; COSTA, Ana. Conflicting values and public decision: The Foz Côa case. Ecological Economics, v. 86, p. 129-135, 2013.
[click to view]

CI/FL//UC. Les gravures paléolithiques de la vallée du Côa.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

AGÊNCIA LUSA. Governo pondera barragem Foz Côa como alternativa ao petróleo. RTP Notícias, 22 out. 2004.
[click to view]

Fundação Côa Parque
[click to view]

CAFÉ PORTUGAL. Foz Côa – população não esquece a barragem que nunca existiu. Notícias, 28 JUL. 2010.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network


PAeM – Vídeos sobre Foz Côa
[click to view]

ARAÚJO, Hélio (Realização). COMSOM (Produção). Foz Côa As figuras não sabem nadar. Documentário. Duração 32' 59''. 1995. Publicado a 13/03/2013
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Francisco Fernandes, Inês Ribeiro and Teresa Meira
Last update18/08/2019
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