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Monte Brasil “Phoenician sanctuaries”

The mysterious caverns in Monte Brasil, Azores
The mysterious caverns in Monte Brasil Nuno Ribeiro (?)

WorldBlue  In short

There are several small rock-cut chambers – so called Monte Brasil "Phoenician sanctuaries" – near the beautiful Renaissance town Angra do Heroísmo. Their origin is not entirely clear but some scientists consider that these are burials and temples made by ancient Phoenicians in the 4th century BC – long before the discovery of Azores by Portuguese.

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GPS coordinates
38.6427 N 27.2313 W (possible mistake up to 200 m)
Location, address
Europe, Portugal, Azores, Terceira Island, western tip of Monte Brasil peninsula, near Zimbreiro fortress
Rock cut architecture and sculptures, Prehistoric and ancient shrines
Name in Portuguese
"Templos" no Monte Brasil
Age
Unknown (the 4th century BC?)
Culture
Unknown (Phoenicians?)
UNESCO World Heritage status
Landscape zone in "Central Zone of the Town of Angra do Heroismo in the Azores" 1983, No.206

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Mount Brasil

Near the center of the beautiful Angra do Heroísmo town is located 205 m tall volcanic cone, rising from the Atlantic ocean. This tuff volcano – Monte Brasil – is connected to the mainland with a narrow isthmus and most of it is covered with forest. The last volcanic activity took place here some 23 thousand years ago.

View on Monte Brasil, Azores
View on Monte Brasil. Angra do Heroísmo is to the left from the mount. Pico do Zimbreiro is the right peak on Mount Brasil. / José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

For several centuries Monte Brasil served as a fortress protecting the town from pirates. Construction of fortifications started in the late 16th century and, as time passed by, the mount was turned into state of art fortress with some 4 km long system of redoubts and several garrisons, as well as a system of roads and pathways to access different parts of the peninsula.

Cavities in the rocks

Near the passageway close to Pico of the Zimbreiro – westernmost peak of Mount Brasil in the cliffs are seen several rock-cut chambers facing the ocean.

Chambers are not large – they seem to be not suitable for habitation. But those who made them turned much attention to the water supply. In one chamber is a cistern. Another has a system for gathering and distributing the water to several cavities made on the ground. One cave – with a cistern in it – has a trapezoidal form and an arch-shaped niche in a wall.

Chambers are facing the Atlantic ocean.

Water collection system in the rock-cut caverns inside Monte Brasil, Azores
Water collection system in the rock-cut caverns inside Monte Brasil / Screenshot from Youtube video "Ancient megalithic sites terceira II" by Omni TM

These are not the only such chambers – towards the east, near Monte de Facho is located another rock-cut chamber with a ceremonial tank, rock-cut "chairs", cistern and post-holes which testify that a lighter structure was built here as well.

Similar structures have been found on Corvo and other Azorean islands.

Phoenicians from Carthage?

Researchers at Portuguese Association of Archeological Research (APIA) Nuno Ribeiro and Anabela Joaquinito consider that these chambers might be burial sites and shrines made by ancient Phoenicians from Carthage, possibly in the 4th century BC. These chambers could have served as shrines for goddess Tanit – chief goddess of Carthaginians. Some chambers – hypogea – possibly were used as sites for burial. Niches served as shrines and holes and channels for water had ritual meaning.

Theoretically it is possible that Phoenicians reached the Azores – their seafarers managed to cover also bigger distances. Construction of such structures though could mean that these people actually lived in Azores.

More obvious explanations?

Major part of scientific community dismisses arguments of Ribeiro and Joaquinito.

Some specialists consider that these structures served for military purposes and were built in the 16th – 17th centuries. This might have some sense regarding the structures on Mount Brasil – but in some other places where such chambers were found, there are no fortifications.

Other specialists consider that these chambers were made for the needs of agriculture – e.g. to provide water for irrigation. Some chambers though are located in places where no agriculture activities have taken place.

References

  1. Antonieta Costa, Terceira Island as a “megalithic station”. Factual description of some archaeological materials. December 2012

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