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Sete Fontes

The art, the skill and the life

Longitude: -8.404020667     Latitude: 41.568698581

Since the XVIII century the supply of water to the town of Braga has been done from the Sete Fontes, located in the parish of S. Victor. The ensemble or set , which has just been qualified as a National Monument, was made built by the archbishop D. José Bragança.

This structure, in a baroque style, which spans circa 3500 meters, is composed of 14 underground galleries and six junction reservoirs, and is under the responsibility of the General Board for Buildings and National Monuments (DGEMN – Direcção Geral de Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais). The Seven Fountains have underground mine sources with gutters or ducts in the bottom carved on the stone which drive the water through galleries, some having more than one kilometer in length, to the reservoirs.

The water running there converges to other reservoirs, of which the first – located upstream – receives water from two mine sources and stands at the uppermost point. After, there are still three other smaller reservoirs, but which present “the same design of circular ground plan covered in a dome with a pinnacle on top”. From the reservoirs goes out the conduit that carries the water to the town.

These were the waters which “fed” the fountains and spouts of the town and even various farms and country-house estates, monasteries, convents and manorial houses. Eduardo Pinheiro de Oliveira refers that “the site of the Seven Fountains today has nothing to do with the one where, between the end of the XVII century and the middle of following century, were made innumerable wells, mines and galleries for the impoundment of water, which during hundreds of years were the main point of supply to the town, once the system of water impoundment from the river Cávado only began functioning on 1929.

The Seven Fountains, the way it is set up today, makes up an Hydraulic Work from the middle XVIII century targeted to promote the picking up, the conduction and the supply of water to the city of Braga. Placed in the outskirts, on the site or village of "Areal de Cima" - parish of S. Victor -, close to the Roman Geira (route XVIII), it is admitted that the spring sources existing there would already be feeding Bracara Augusta with the precious lymph, so that the dating of the present patrimonial complex extends much farther back in time than the expression it exhibits today. In fact, till the start up of the water collection system of Cávado river, on 1914, the Seven Fountains were the main source of water supply to the city. Being even today in perfect working condition, its water mines ensure the supply of water to almost one hundred "penistas"1 and to all those who daily go there for it.

The system we nowadays can regard will have been, in its essential, built between 1744 and 1752 under the aegis of the Archbishop D. José de Bragança (1741-1756), although we know that its predecessor, D. Rodrigo de Moura Telles (1704-1728), had already made make there numerous handiworks. As well, D. Frei (Friar) Caetano Brandão (1790-1805) would have ordered the opening of the Mine of the Orphans (1804) to supply with water the homonymous institution, which he founded.

The Seven Fountains complex consists of a group or cluster of water mines and erected structures which stretch over circa 3 500 metres, segmented in 14 underground galleries and 6 junction nodes in an ensemble wholly built of solid stone. In it there stand out the "Mães de Água" (Mothers of Water), an expression of Baroque architecture, due to their cylindrical structure provided with a vaulted dome, trimmed by circular cornices and topped with pinnacles. On each one, in the extremities, there can be seen the heraldic coat of arms of the patron profusely craved on granite.

The hydraulic work is a unique specimen of the 1700s portuguese engineering, manifested, among other elements: in the conception of the galleries and visit chambers; in the system's overall articulation, as a function of the outflows and the topography of the valley where it is installed; and in the kinds of underground and aerial piping, which show a delicate work in the sectioning craved on the granite blocks that fit into one another finely. Through them the water slide across branches that can be as much as one hundred metres long in between the meeting points. It is also worth of note the centrifugation sinks or basins and the breathers which garnish, trimming, the spots of level rupture.

Of the original system mines there sprout yet 13 water springs of excellent quality water, which are under the keeping of the municipal company of water supply. This has for its mission to conduct the periodic analysis of the water's quality, as well as to to dispose for two water keepers who guarantee the maintenance and cleaning of the system. The Seven Fountains form an invaluable underground water resource located inside the urban area, which, due to its characteristics, presents itself as an important added value in a strategic plan for the city of Braga. One should recall that the water of the fountains of the Paço's and Carlos Amarante's town squares (Largos) proceeds from there.

On March the 27th 1995, the ASPA - Association for the Defense, Study and Promotion of the Natural and Cultural Patrimony - asked the IPPAR - Portuguese Institute for the Architectonic and Archaeological Patrimony - the classification of the Seven Fountains as a piece of patrimonial heritage, having the corresponding process been started on April the 18th on that same year. From then on, some eight years gone, this ensemble from the patrimony of the city of Braga got provisionally under the stand of a variety of cautionary protection measures, which should guarantee its qualification as a monument. Notwithstanding, the ground where the Seven Fountains are installed, located in an area of urban expansion, has been being bought by enterprises connected to the real state business, without, for the moment, there being any detail projects or plans aimed at preserving and rehabilitating the ensemble. Towards this goal, it is expected at any moment that this impasse may be unblocked and that its safeguard as an uncontested testimony of the art, the technique and of life may be secured for the fruition of future generations.

[1] – The usufructuaries of the ancestral rights to the water, which was reckoned in "penas" (a measure of the cross section of the spout).

© Miguel Melo Bandeira - Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade do Minho.

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