In the powerhouse

Power sources

Portugal has various sources of power, as the picture shows.

In the last week of my stay, I had the great privilege of a visit to the Barragem de Castelo de Bode, a dam built in 1950.

The dam is on the Zêzere river, which flows into the Tejo near Tomar. Indeed, the Tejo–Zêzere is Portugal’s longest river, lying entirely within the country’s boundary.

It is a huge structure, the biggest in Portugal. At 115 metres, it is one of the tallest structures in the country. We took the internal lift to the fifth floor and went outside onto the roof, and the wall of the dam still towered high above us. The outflow of the dam drives three huge turbines which each generate 46 megawatts of electricity.

The dam was built in 1950, and after it was finished it took a workforce of 170 people to run it. So a village was built beside the dam. Now the workforce comprises 11 people (the dam is controlled by computer from somewhere else, the workers just do maintenance), and the village lies empty. But the dam, which as well as a power station doubles as a museum, includes artefacts from the early days, including a barber’s chair, old calculating machines, and even a schoolroom with a globe and a map of Portugal’s overseas territories.

In a glass case, the museum has a visitors book, open at a page with a 1950 date. The left-hand page has the signature of Alberto Salazar, who ruled Portugal at the time. On the right-hand page are the names of important foreigners who had come to see his new dam, including the American and South African ambassadors.

Salazar's signature

The guidebook in the apartment claims to help tourists see things that most tourists don’t ever see. But I was fortunate to see things that I suspect are not in any guidebooks! Sincere thanks to my kind hosts in Aveiro and Lisbon.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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