Fix Photo Essay Travel

Portraits Of Portugal’s Ancient Windmills

Tom Vaughn /


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


By Tom Vaughn
Portugal – Critical to every village, the windmills in Portugal ground corn and
wheat to make bread and grain.
town has or had at least one mill, all of which were operating until about
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.
my grandparents’ village and my home when I am in Portugal, has two mills.
built in 1100 by a Roman student who loved the area, is called Moinho Estudante and it operated until the 1970s.
windmills in Portugal are different from those in other countries – they’re
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 /


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.



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 /


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.


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.
the jars of this mill are shattered on the ground, littering the entire area.
sails of the mill have been missing since before 1987.
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 /

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

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 /


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



windmills in the towns of Vale Da Trave and Fontainha have also been restored
and are used as homes.
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
2009, the last mill of Porto de Mos stopped working.
is a town with three mills, each of them abandoned. One of them, however, is
being refurbished back into working condition.
Tom Vaughn /


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


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 /


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. 


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.
half century ago, the horrendous economy in Portugal prompted thousands of
people to leave the country, abandoning houses, farms, and its beautiful,
musical windmills.