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About Portugal - Europa 2020 - Ancient Postal Routes


In the days when messengers were at the service of royal households, noblemen, archbishops, abbots or other princes of the church, missives were transported by foot or on horseback, then by stagecoach, and later by train or aboard on longer journeys. A combination of these modes of transport would often be used.

Let us imagine that King João III wanted to send an important message to Henry VIII, pursuing his policy of advancing relationships between Portugal and England. The letter from the Portuguese court to England would normally be delivered in person by a trusted emissary from the royal household, who would travel by ship from Lisbon to London with his horse on board. On arrival, he would ride for the rest of the journey to the Palace of Whitehall (Westminster) where the king and the English court were based between 1530 and 1698.

For the postal service to evolve using the stagecoach, it was rst necessary to build passable roads or tracks. For many years, until the advent of the railway (the rst train in Portugal ran in 1856), the transportation of letters or parcels moved hand in hand with the construction of roads. From Lisbon to Porto, by road, the journey took 34 hours and used 23 relay stations. By train (and from June 1864 there was a train link between Lisbon and Gaia), the same journey took 14 hours.

Beyond this fundamental Lisbon-Porto axis (which included Caldas da Rainha, Condeixa, Leiria, Coimbra, etc.), letters and parcels were transported by muleteers or carriers who waited for the “post” at locations on the main axis and took to the road (when there was one) with their “pack”, caravans of mules that carried both letters and provisions to the hinterland towns such as Braga, Guarda and Viseu. The mid-19th century saw the spread of private stagecoach services that linked towns in the interior of the country. One of the rst was the Companhia de Viação Portuense (Porto Transport Company) with routes to Braga and Guimarães from 1860.

The Autonomous Regions of the Azores and Madeira had their own specific post transportation problems. The use of maritime transport to send correspondence to the islands had been previewed by old official charters pre-dating the creation of the rst master of the Posts. However, it was only in 1821 that King João VI o cially created the maritime postal service for the Azores and Madeira.

In the interior of the various islands, the circulation of letters and parcels was ensured by private or municipal services that hired couriers or muleteers, as was the case on Portugal mainland. Due to the very uneven terrain and the lack of roads, a boat was often used as the simplest way to move around the islands.

As far as 1871, the Azores islands were linked by ships from the Empresa Insulana de Navegação (Island Navigation Company), which also carried the post. This company had a contract with the Portuguese government and its ships visited Lisbon regularly. From 1918 and due to its geo-strategic position in the middle of the North Atlantic, the Azores archipelago was frequently used as a stopover point or operational base for various seaplane flights that had the goal of securing the crossing between North America and the British Isles. However, regular air services to the mainland and to Madeira (including the transportation of post) only started in 1937.

The Port of Funchal was established in 1756 by royal charter from King José I. But it was only from 1878 that the Empresa Insulana de Navegação started visiting the island of Madeira regularly and transporting post, under another governmental contract that remained valid until 1914.

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