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Portraits Of Portugal’s Ancient Windmills

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

An abandoned windmill on a mountainous road in the Portugese village of Rio Maior.

By Tom Vaughn
Junior Reporter
CORTICAL, Portugal – Critical to every village, the windmills in Portugal ground corn and wheat to make bread and grain.
Each town has or had at least one mill, all of which were operating until about 1970.
While spending the summer in Portugal, I tried to visit at least one windmill every day. I learned a lot about them by talking with neighbors and village elders about these fascinating, ancient machines.
Cortical, my grandparents’ village and my home when I am in Portugal, has two mills.
One, built in 1100 by a Roman student who loved the area, is called Moinho Estudante and it operated until the 1970s.
The windmills in Portugal are different from those in other countries – they’re musical.
Each sail of the mill had clay jars called buzios that were strapped to the wood so they howled in the wind like blowing into a bottle.

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

Finding a working windmill in Portugal is nearly impossible. This is a miniature model of a working mill. It’s not real, but it spins, howls in the wind and the model stones inside it spin and grind like a real windmill.

Moinho Estudante was known in the area as the loudest mill around, and that’s saying a lot. The immediate area, measuring about four miles or six kilometers, includes more than 10 villages.

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

Mohino Estudante, one of the oldest windmills in Portugal, was built in the village of Cortical about 1100 by a Roman student who loved the area.


The walls of the mill are coated in broken jars. When laborers built the windmill long ago, they used the jars in a cement mixture to hold the ancient stones together. Nothing was wasted.
Today the jars of this mill are shattered on the ground, littering the entire area.
The sails of the mill have been missing since before 1987.
The other mill in my village has walls one meter thick, with no cement. This mill’s westernmost wall collapsed in the 1980s, and fire destroyed the remaining wood.

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

A mill in the village of Cortical, with walls that are a meter thick.


In Carvalheiro, the next town over, there is a mill hidden behind an olive grove that belonged to my great-grandfather. My grandfather’s cousin discovered it and refurbished the interior as a living space.

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

An old windmill in Carvalheiro that once belonged to the author’s great-grandfather, it has since been restored and converted into a home.


The windmills in the towns of Vale Da Trave and Fontainha have also been restored and are used as homes.
Porto de Mos, a town 10 miles to the north (it’s named ‘mos’ because mos is the stone of a mill), has more than 12 mills spanning three mountains that circle the town
In 2009, the last mill of Porto de Mos stopped working.
Mendiga is a town with three mills, each of them abandoned. One of them, however, is being refurbished back into working condition.

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

A windmill chain in the village of Mendiga. Sometimes mills were built in groups, with as many as a dozen on one mountaintop.


Amais de Cima, a village south of mine, even had a water-powered grind mill, called Moinho da Agua. This water mill was abandoned in the 1960s, and a house built on its foundation.

Tom Vaughn / youthjournalism.org

Inside of a mill in Mendiga, the 1,000 pounds of weight from the grind stones is still supported by the ancient cork trees, which are used as flooring. 


Over time, the windmills of Portugal gave way to modern factories and electricity, though until the 1950s, some mill owners actually took wind-powered mills, and attached engines to them, rather than use natural wind power.
A half century ago, the horrendous economy in Portugal prompted thousands of people to leave the country, abandoning houses, farms, and its beautiful, musical windmills.

Filed under: Cortical, Portugal, Tom Vaughn, windmills

One Response to "Portraits Of Portugal’s Ancient Windmills"

  1. There is a restored working singing windmill near A-dos-Cunhados – Torre Vedras. It is fully functional and supplies flour to a working adjacent bakery. At least, this was fairly recently.
    There is also a model mill at the foot of the big one.
    I took many pictures of the inside as well, where the top orientation system to the wind is clearly visible.
    Lots of clay jars are visible, small ones on the outer rope and of varying sizes on the beams. I think the spinning speed gave a fairly good sonic indication on the wind strength.

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