The Fort of Santa Catarina was built on the foundations of a fortification existing since the reign of D. João I (1385-1433). In October 1585 some good men from the Coimbra City Council petitioned Philip I of Portugal (1580-1598) for the construction of the Fort, with a view to defending Figueira da Foz from enemy entry through the mouth of the River Mondego.
The Fort of Santa Catarina (16th century), the Fort of Palheiros (16th and 19th centuries) and the Fort of Buarcos (15th-16th centuries) defended the villages of Buarcos and Figueira da Foz from enemy attacks from the ocean. The Chapel of Saint Catherine (patron saint of artillerymen) was built inside the fort in 1598. This chapel has an image of the patron saint dating from the 18th century. In 1645 the chapel served as the Court of the Inquisition.
On November 20, 1807, French troops invaded Portugal for the first time. Commanded by Junot, they murder, rape and pillage the Portuguese people. On November 29, the royal family fled to Brazil with 34 warships and 15,000 entourage, gold, books and many other riches.
On November 30, 1807, Junot entered Lisbon and on January 21, 1808, the Court arrived in Brazil.
With what was left of the Portuguese Army, Junot organized the Portuguese Legion – 5 regiments of infantry, 2 of cavalry and 1 battalion of light infantry. He thus removes the best troops and officers by sending the Legion to France under the command of the Marquis of Alorna.
The Portuguese rebellion begins in the north, but quickly spreads throughout the country. Clubs, staves, scythes, rusty weapons, stones, everything is used to arm the people. In the Algarve the French troops are forced to withdraw to the Alentejo. Elvas and Almeida (under siege), Abrantes, Santarém and the coast between Peniche and Setúbal are the territories that Junot dominates and where he concentrates his forces. The Alentejo declares itself in revolt. In Coimbra, the university’s chemistry laboratory manufactures gunpowder and cartridges.
Figueira da Foz is also invaded by the French who settle in the Fort of Santa Catarina.
On June 25, 1808, artillery sergeant Bernardo António Zagalo left Coimbra for Figueira at the head of a force of 40 volunteers, 30 of them students. Along the way they dragged more than 3,000 people, with the same objective and armed with spears, pikes and sickles, cheering and ringing bells.
Zagalo’s plan was to force the French garrison to surrender by starvation, contrary to the wishes of the people who wanted to storm the Fort. But the insurgents rushed impetuously to the Fort, putting their lives at risk, as Zagalo pointed out:
“Seeing, however, that the people, without reflecting on the danger, were getting too far ahead, I ran to their front and made them withdraw: at that time the French will fire some musketry and a piece of artillery at us; but having observed their movements we lay down and they will not hurt a single person. As the siege was formally launched and communication with the Cabedelo entirely cut off, I ordered the French to surrender, as I knew that they had no supplies for that day, and would be put to the sword. The commander replied that he was a Portuguese lieutenant engineer and that he could not surrender because of the danger to his family, which he had in Peniche, in the hands of the French; as a result, the siege continued and when they were about to surrender, I received an order from the governor of Coimbra on June 27, 1808, to withdraw immediately to that city”.
At 7 a.m. on June 27, the people stormed the Fort of Santa Catarina, which had been occupied by the French for about seven months. The French still fired a few musketeers and an artillery piece without hitting anyone, but eventually capitulated, surrendering to Zagalo’s forces on the 27th with guns and five artillery pieces.
The fort was entrusted to the command of Major Soares de Buracos, who planted the Portuguese flag there. A few days later, the Fort was occupied by an English garrison composed of 80 soldiers from the squadron of Vice-Admiral Charles Cotton, commander of the English squadron that was waiting at sea for this opportunity.
A month after the taking of the Fort, from August 2 to 5, 1808, on the beaches of Lavos (Cabedelo), 13,000 English troops landed to the aid of Portugal, which, under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, future Duke of WellingtonThey occupy a house that still exists today in the Lavos Warehouses.
From August 5 to 8, 1808, the division commanded by Brent Spencer, who came from Gibraltar with about 5,000 men, also in aid of Portugal, landed in Buarcos.
As for the Portuguese, Bernardim Freire had 6,000 men in Coimbra, there were 2,500 in Beira with General Bacelar, about 6,000 in the Alentejo and Algarve and the rest in Porto and surrounding Almeida.
After the landing is complete, Wellington moves south, always along the coast and with the support of the squadron. Wellington has about 13,500 men at the moment, marching painfully in the middle of August.
On August 12, 1808 Wellington arrived in Leiria, where he received the reinforcements sent by Bernardim Freire, just over 2000 men. Wellington ‘s army headed for Lisbon and defeated the French at Roliça and Vimeiro, and finally the capitulation was signed at Sintra.
On September 15, 1808 the French began to withdraw and on December 2 the last troops left our country.
The French were defeated, but invaded Portugal twice more: in March 1809 with General Soult (2nd invasion) and in August 1810 with General Massena (3rd invasion).
The Fort of Santa Catarina is an ex-libris of Figueira da Foz and is classified as a Property of Public Interest since December 5, 1961 (Decree 44.075).