Pirates and corsairs (but no buccaneers)

Although there isn’t a lot of information about it, there were Viking raids and, later, pirate and corsair attacks along the Portuguese coast. Surprised? I was.

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 good 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 local 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.

Although he was very helpful he didn’t know if there were written records about any of this.

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, heading towards Odemira, they would steal cereal and take with them those who weren’t fast enough to run away or hide.

Some say there are hidden treasures in the area, although poor peasants were unlikely to have a lot of possessions… But one can dream, right?



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