Walking with the Romans at Calhau de São Jorge Ruins, Madeira

Walking with the Romans at Calhau de São Jorge Ruins, Madeira

Do you ever open your mouth and find yourself agreeing with something your kids say before your brain has had a chance to catch up? This is what happened here!

As we’re walking close to the bridge to find the ruins of Sao Jorge, our son said

Mum, these cobbled pathways look so old I bet they’re Roman. They look Roman, don’t they!?

and before my brain had a chance to think I said ‘YES!’. Anyway, a few white lies didn’t hurt and it encouraged them to complete the steep walk up the hillside.

We used research on Google later to cushion the blow that the ruins are NOT roman but in fact 16th century. Woops, just a few years out then.

Sao Jorge
Cobbled pathways leading up the valley.

Site of Calhau da Ribeira de São Jorge

The ruins of Sao Jorge are on the north-east side of the island, close to Santana. They are not shown or listed on the tourist map and I should imagine that was deliberate to keep the coach tours away. In fact these ruins aren’t even mentioned in Madeira’s official book that it sells in all the supermarkets.

The area is popular with locals in the summer due to the newly built restaurant-pools and with hikers all year round.  The Vereda do Calhau walk – which is on the left side of the mountain as you cross the bridge, is a very popular and floral walk.

From the very top viewing point of Sao Jorge you can look down the mountain side and see the calhau swimming pools and the zig-zag tracks up the hillside.

Map co-ordinates: 32.829559, -16.897450

You can just see a glimmer of blue from the pool at the bottom of the valley. The zig-zag track is prominent. Don’t be fooled by how easy it looks lol.

A little history

It’s been quite difficult to find out exactly what these ruins are and when they date back to but my understanding now is that they date to 1515 and belonged to an old sugarcane mill that was built there in the early days of the settlement. It was operational between the 16th-20th centuries.

The entrance portico is one of the most significant elements of the ancient buildings and was classified as a Monument of Municipal Interest in 2003.
Sao Jorge
Portway door leading out onto the stone beach

SÃO JORGE RUINs

The Sao Jorge ruins are described as being by the ‘calhau’ which I originally perceived to mean by the mouth of the river however it actually means ‘pebble’.  So Calhau de Sao Jorge means Saint George’s pebble.  Maybe relevant to the stoniness of the beach? I will try and find out.

The ruins came about in the 20th century when the building of the new road gave an end to the monopoly of Sao Jorge. The place started to decay, since it ceased being a compulsory passing place.

No Signs or information

I was driving past the road entrance when I saw a road sign ‘Ruinas’. We decided to explore what I guessed was going to be ruins. Arriving in the car park you can see the bridge and the beach but there’s no real indication as to what to what these ruins are.

There are no information signs at all. Due to this, we missed a number of the ruins which are located on the other side of the beach to the Portico.

I have no idea if the buildings below are part of the ruins or if they form some tourist hostel or something which is only open in the summer?

Sao Jorge
One of the old roads

The 16th century bridge

The old bridge leads to the modern cafe and pools and takes you up on the zig-zag path that leads up one side of the valley.

Sao Jorge
The C16th bridge

Sao Jorge

The portico

Sao Jorge

Sao Jorge
The portico and old wall from the beach
Sao Jorge
The portico of Sao Jorge and the rocky beach

The Ruins of the Old Mill, Warehouse & Fountain.

Since coming back from the ruins and trying to research them, I discovered that there there is a mill, warehouse and fountain. Obviously I have no photos of these as I didn’t see them.

Sao Jorge
The ruins from above
Sao Jorge
Ruins from above on the zig-zag path

The walk

The walk probably isn’t very long, maybe 1km, but it’s quite steep.

Because we didn’t know it existed, we walked up in Ugg boots and trainers. Not the best choice of footwear for walking!

The pathway is lined with cactus and flowering plants.

Sao Jorge
Cactus lining the paths at Sao Jorge

Waterfalls on the walk

Like everywhere on Madeira, water is plentiful and there are a number of waterfalls.

Sao Jorge
A waterfall in the left hand corner

The beach

The beach is a stone beach full of boulders. I have read reports since that the swell is very large and that swimming is strongly discouraged, although there are no apparent  signs on the beach.

Natural Pool

The natural pool is 5m deep and fed by the river.  In the summer it must be lovely and the kids had a great time throwing rocks in.

Sao Jorge
The natural pools at the Sao Jorge ruins
Sao Jorge
Throwing rocks into the natural pools. Sao Jorge
Sao Jorge
The natural pool and the C16th bridge in the background

The Cafe and Pools

Sao Jorge
The pools and cafe/restaurant from above

I’ve seen photos (courtesy of google) of the cafe and pools in use during the summer and they look turquoise, glistening in the sun and full of people. Much better condition than they are now in winter.

Feeling underwhelmed

I left the ruins feeling totally underwhelmed; I had NO idea what the ruins were, what century they were from or how important they were to the island’s history.

We’ve now spent 17 days on Madeira and reflecting back I seem to have felt underwhelmed by much due to a total lack of information. Google has been useful but it hasn’t answered all my questions.

Are you following us?

Head over to Instagram where we post most regularly or Facebook to see what we’re talking about.

Comments

comments

%d bloggers like this: