This museum transcends the confines of a conventional museological approach centered around „collections“. Instead, it offers an immersive experience where visitors can explore the Côa Valley rock art within an exhibition area. This captivating space features replicas of engraved panels, interactive information displays, and educational activities, all aimed at presenting the Paleolithic art and its archaeological context. Through this gateway, visitors gain access to the true essence of the museum: the open-air rock art sites themselves.
Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley
In 1991, during the construction of the Côa dam, archaeologist Nelson Rebanda made a significant discovery—the first panel in the Côa Valley. Although the public announcement was delayed until 1994, the revelation sparked a widespread debate due to the impending submersion of the Côa Valley rock art caused by the dam's construction.
Following two years of intense deliberation among members of the scientific and political communities, a momentous decision was made in 1996. Under the leadership of António Guterres, the Portuguese government heeded the advice of experts regarding the artistic and scientific significance of the Côa Valley rock art and the sheer number of sites present (the largest known open-air rock art site worldwide). Consequently, they chose to abandon the dam project and instead establish the Archaeological Park of the Côa Valley. This park was tasked with the mission of „managing, preserving, researching, and showcasing the rock art to the public“.
On December 2, 1998, the rock art of the Côa Valley achieved an extraordinary milestone as it was swiftly classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, setting a record for the fastest classification in the organization's history. This momentous decision, reached through the collaborative efforts of UNESCO and the Portuguese Government, ensured the in situ protection of the Côa Valley rock art.
Presently, the Archaeological Park encompasses a vast territory spanning 200 km2. It boasts over 80 sites adorned with rock art, extending for more than 45 km along the Côa and Douro Valleys. With a staggering collection of over 1,300 panels, this site proudly holds the distinction of being the largest known open-air collection of rock art in the world.