Last Summer, while in Vila Nova de Milfontes, I heard about “espanta corsários”, i.e., “scare corsairs”: a kind of scarecrows but for corsairs. At the time I wasn’t able to gather a lot of information on the topic, but I found it very interesting (a bit nerd, I know).
Looking at the steep cliffs in the area, and all along the Southwest Portuguese coast, I thought to myself that they could have provided good spots for hiding treasures.
One day I decided to go and bother the nice people at the Tourism Office. Luckily enough, there was someone there who apparently found the subject as interesting as I did. He told me that the “espanta corsários” had been the population’s way of trying to scare the corsairs and pirates away. Built more or less like scarecrows, the “espanta corsários” were left near the coast so that from the sea they would look like people. One of the reasons why Milfontes was chosen for these raids was because it was home to very few families, so they tried to give the impression of being a larger population.
Maybe he was just trying to shut up the nagging woman? Maybe.
So I looked around a bit and, yes, Vila Nova de Milfontes was attacked in the 16th and 17th centuries by pirates and corsairs coming, mainly, from North Africa, but also from Turkey and (gasp!) England. On their way up river, going to Odemira, they would steal cereal and take with them those who weren’t fast enough to run away or hide.