Mário Linhares, in Foz Côa, Portugal]
As a teacher I have the opportunity to prepare, every year, a sketch trip with high school Art students. Sometimes we choose big cities but we are reaching the point where we understood that special sketching experiences must be done in places where the mass tourism doesn't exist. Last year we went to La Tourette (USk posts here and here).
This year we choose Foz Côa, a world heritage place where rupestrian art (Prehistoric Rock Art) discovered at the early 90s changed the perception of rock art more than 25.000 years ago.
(top image: train trip from Lisbon to Oporto and from Oporto to Pocinho - North interior of Portugal)
So far, archaeologists thought that rupestrian art happened mainly inside caves and sometimes on exterior. What Foz Côa proved is the opposite! More than 1.000 rocks with around 8.000 engravings animal pictures in open air blowed away archaeologists minds and changed ancient and solid ideas they had until then.
Why do they took so long to discover this place?
The water levels rose and covered the engravings. At the beginning of 90s, the Portuguese Government started a big dam construction and the water levels went down.
A huge movement started campaigns to stop the construction and the current UN General Secretary António Guterres (the Portuguese Prime Minister at that time) decided to cancel the dam construction and he gave orders to begin archeological excavations in large scale around those two rivers: Côa and Douro. Great man!
Looks like that zone was the center at the Iberian Peninsula. Around 20.000 people lived here at that time and they met in Vale do Côa to do economic exchanges and to mate. One of the most impressive things about the rock art engravings is that many of them are overlapping. Dozens of animals layer over layer. Why? We don't know, but they wanted to do it that way, because even along the side are smoother rocks without a single picture...
In other places we can find more remains.
We asked the students to use different techniques they must learn during Drawing classes before University. One of them is "sanguínea", a kind of blood pressed mineral dust used by great artists like Leonard da Vinci during Renaissance.
In Portugal we can find Castles in almost every city. Marialva is one of them. Using colored pencils, during night, only with the light focus pointed to the castle, students got frozen. That's a hard experience: sketch at night with 5ºC...
On our last day in Foz Côa we went back to the Côa Museum. The building is amazing and so well integrated in the landscape. The concrete has the texture of the local rocks where we can find the engravings! :)
The visit must be done with a guide, who will be one of the archaeologist of the place.
That day I met a New Zealand couple traveling in Europe for 6 months. The man told me Foz Côa is one of the greatest places he visited so far.
I'm with him.
On the train traveling back home to Lisbon, I sketched three of my students in blue ink.
Sometimes, when I overlap my sketches, people tell me that's innovator. Now I can respond:
- Not innovator. I'm just trying to get close to what our ancestral artists did, more than 25.000 years ago.