This article is about the archipelago. For the river, see Berlengas River. For the battle, see Battle of the Berlengas (1666).
Archipelago (Arquipélago)
Berlenga Grande is part of the Reserva Natural das Berlengas, a protected area home to marine species of flora and fauna
Official name: Arquipélago das Berlengas
Nickname: Ilhas das Berlengas
Country  Portugal
Region Beira
Sub-region Oeste
District Leiria
Municipality Peniche
Location Atlantic Ocean
Islands Berlenga Grande, Estelas, Farilhões, Forcados
Landmark Fort of São João Baptista
Highest point Berlenga Grande
 - location Ilha Berlenga, Berlengas, Peniche
 - elevation 75 m (246 ft)
 - coordinates PT 39°24′55″N 9°30′34″W / 39.41528°N 9.50944°W / 39.41528; -9.50944
Lowest point Sea level
 - location Atlantic Ocean
 - elevation 0 m (0 ft)
Length 1.99 km (1 mi), Northwest-Southeast
Width 8.57 km (5 mi), Southwest-Northeast
Area 0.99 km2 (0 sq mi)
Biomes Temperate, Mediterranean
Ethnic groups Portuguese
Location of the archipelago of the Berlengas
Wikimedia Commons: Berlengas

The Berlengas archipelago is a group of small islands 10 to 15 kilometres (6.2–9.3 miles) off the Portuguese coast, west of the town of Peniche in Oeste region. These islands were traditionally known to British mariners as "the Burlings".[1][2][3][4]


The historic penal colony: the Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas

Human occupation on Berlenga Grande (the only habitable island) dates back to antiquity: the islands are referred to in Ptolemy's Geography as Λονδοβρίς (Londobris).[5] Much later it was referred to as the island of Saturno by Roman geographers, and was visited successively by Muslims, Vikings and pirates/privateers from England and France.

In 1513, with the support of Queen Leonor, monks from the Order of São Jerónimo established a settlement on the island to offer assistance to navigation and victims of frequent shipwrecks. The monastery founded there (the Monastery of the Misericórdia da Berlenga), remained until the 16th century, when disease, lack of communication (due to constant inclement weather) and regular assaults by pirates and privateers (from England and France), forced the monks to abandon their service on the island.

After the Portuguese Restoration War, during the reign of King John IV, the Counsel of War determined that the demolition of the monastery ruins, and the use of their rocks to build a coastal defense would help protect the coastal settlements; the Fort of São João Baptista das Berlengas was constructed from the remnants of the monastery ruins. By 1655, it had already, during its construction, resisted an assault by three Barbary coast pirates.

The island's lighthouse (dubbed Duke of Braganza by locals) was constructed in 1841. In the 20th century a solar panel was installed in the lighthouse's 29 metres (95 ft) column, providing a 50 kilometres (31 mi) field of vision.

Nowadays, the archipelago has no permanent population.[6]

The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), meeting in Dresden (Germany) from 28 June to 1 July, while adding 18 new sites, included the Berlengas to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR): in a statement on 30 June 2011, the list of classified reserves were presented.[7]


Berlenga Grande (Portuguese: Ilha da Berlenga) is 1,500 by 800 metres (4,900 by 2,600 feet) and rises to a height of 85 metres (279 feet) above sea level. On this small island there are beaches and several caves, its waters are very clean with barrier reefs and vibrant marine life. Part of the island was ripped off in the past, forming a separated part of the island called Ilha Velha (Old Island). In the summer, the island becomes filled with various sorts of flowers. In the larger island (Berlenga Grande) there is an ancient fort and a lighthouse. The fort is now partially converted into a resthouse. As the archipelago has been declared a reservation area due to the local fauna (sea birds, mostly), it is only visited by scientists and, in the summer, by a small number of tourists.

To the north of Berlenga Grande are uninhabitable islets, known for the existence of species of marine birds and a diverse ecosystem: the Estelas and Farilhões-Forcados Islets.

See also


  1. Wreck Report for SS Corsica 1881
  2. Wreck Report for Brixham 1884
  3. Catalog of the latest and most approved charts pilots and navigation, published 1817, on Google Books, page 4. Item 62 "The Coast of Portugal including Part of the Coast of Spain from Cape Penas to Gibraltar with particular Plans of the Harbours of Ferrol Corunna Vigo Oporto Lisbon Cádiz and the Burlings drawn from the Surveys of Tofino Franzini and others 7 6"
  4. Newspaper report of shipwreck of the Dorunda, which names the location as the Burlings and includes a map
  5. The Geography of Claudius Ptolemy
  6. Although tourists do travel to the island, there are no fixed residents on this group. Berlenga Grande did star in a pre-revolutionary Portuguese movie called O Rei das Berlengas (English: The King of the Berlengas), a comedy about someone who decides to become king of the said archipelago. Due to this movie, several people, tourists and residents from the nearby towns, have declared the independence of the islands, and declare themselves as king, prince or president of the Berlengas. These declarations and liberation armies are nothing more than fiction intended for amusement.
  7. UNESCO, ed. (30 June 2011). "18 new Biosphere Reserves added to UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme". Paris, France: UNESCO/Natural Sciences UNESCOPRESS. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
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