The Author and Engineer Jorge de Sena: Relationship with the Tua Line


In this original essay, the author discovers the relations between the engineer Jorge de Sena – Civil Engineer of JAE – JAE Roads, 1948-1959 – and the endangered line of the Tua river. It begins by tracin2nd cy directly and indirectly in the Tua Valley and Line and in particular in the construction of the elegant bridge of Abreiro. As is well known, this historic railway line is about to sink under the Foz Tua dam, now under construction, which is situated between the villages of Alijó and Carrazeda Ansiães.


Neste original ensaio, a autora descobre as relações do engenheiro Jorge de Sena — Engenheiro civil da JAE – Junta Autónoma das Estradas, de 1948 a 1959 — com a ameaçada linha do rio Tua. Começa por traçar sua trajetória no campo da engenharia, destacando a seguir os trabalhos que desenvolveu direta e indiretamente na Linha e Vale do Tua, designadamente na construção da elegante ponte de Abreiro. Como se sabe, esta histórica linha ferroviária está prestes a submergir, sob a Barragem de Foz Tua, já em construção, que se situa entre as vilas transmontanas de Alijó e Carrazeda de Ansiães.


Abreiro bridge, Tua river (1953-57)
Abreiro bridge, Tua river (1953-57)


“The character Cordeiro from the novel “Signs of Fire” is Alfredo Guisado, poet from the Orfeu movement and, along with his brother, owner of the Irmãos Unidos restaurant in Lisbon where Almada Negreiros painting of Fernando Pessoa is displayed. They had a farm at Tua. It’s a real character. Later in time, with my husband, I actually saw the bird collection he donated to the Zoo.

… before the description of that memory on my Flash, I had already visited Tua – impressive landscape … and I made the journey to Bragança, accompanying students from the Mocidade Holiday Camp where I worked many years in my youth, as this paid my education’s costs.

… my husband worked at JAE from 1946 to 1959 Some years later, already married, passing there together [Tua Line] he told me: I worked at this bridge [Abreiro] we never managed to go together to Carrazeda, our “shangri-lá”.”  [1]



These memories of Mécia de Sena, widow and curator of Jorge de Sena’s works (1919-1978), according to herself, his first and most faithful reader, “only serve to show the ambience that our lives were linked to in some way”, and were the starting point for the preparation of this text.

This study develops itself within the theoretical and methodological framework of social studies and techniques, which guides the intensive and extensive analysis of its object: the connection to the Valley and the Tua Line of Jorge de Sena, renowned writer, author of the novel Signs of Fire, an unparalleled work of our twentieth-century literature, a brilliant poet and a prominent literary figure of contemporary Portuguese culture. He was also a civil engineer and had been since 1959 until his untimely death, renowned professor of Luso-Brazilian Studies at Universities in Brazil (Assis and Araraquara, state of São Paulo), from 1959 to 1965 and in the USA (Wisconsin and Santa Barbara – California) from 1965 to 1978.

The study is based on research and interpretation of sources and archival documents of the former JAE (Autonomous Roads Board), an exhaustive photobiography of the writer published by the lnstitute of the Roads of Portugal, and technical engineering works as well as other documents and indirect sources.

We try to outline the path of his very own rigorous and original scientific-technical creation, tracing an overview of his main studies, works and engineering projects, based on research of some of his relevant technical papers, where one can see his intention of writing with the same inspiration, “testimonial” objectivity, reflective intellectual clarity, elegance and aesthetic sensibility that mark his literary and cultural production. We will line out the technical-scientific and literary thought of writer and engineer Jorge de Sena. We will also highlight the relationship of Jorge de Sena’s technical career with his work developed directly and indirectly in the Tua Valley Line framed by the previously shown context.

By reference to that multifaceted and multidimensional dual trajectory in both the humanities and sciences fields, we seek to also scrutinize through this perspective the intellectual Jorge de Sena, the vastness of his exceptional knowledge and interests, high culture and erudition strongly rooted in the universality of the Renaissance spirit which he himself had studied like few did, as evidenced explicitly in a letter he wrote to his wife from Rio de Janeiro on 11/9/1959″(…) Books: Put aside ali those people of the Renaissance and historical studies of that time that are important to work on Camões. (…)

According to a friend and colleague “There are at least 5 distinct personalities in Jorge de Sena. Jorge Cândido de Sena, the citizen, as he is registered. Jorge, as he was called by his family and close friends. Sena, as designated by his academic peers. Engineer Sena, the official title of his profession. Jorge de Sena, an outstanding figure of Portuguese Letters.” [2]



“Engineering and poetry face one another within me” (Jorge de Sena) [3]


Having lived, worked and started writing and publishing in Portugal during the period of steely political and ideological censorship of the Salazar dictatorship of which he was an unwavering opponent, Jorge de Sena started – still a student – his brilliant writing career as a poet, but also in prose. Author of a new and original approach to literary creation in interrelation with a wide culture, techniques and other arts, namely music, he produced a wide literary, critical and essayistic work and markedly testimonial. His work was “marked by the breadth and variety of interests and achievementsI could go from the almost mathematical analysis to the freest manifestations of taste, always supported on two skills: the ability to quickly accumulate an unlikely amount of information and the security of criticaI discernment.” [4] At the sarne time, at the universities of Lisbon and Porto, during World War II, he took and completed in 1944 his engineering studies, after which, on 22 December 1948, he was hired by JAE as a 3rd class civil engineer, and worked in this organization’s Directorate for Conservation and in the Technical Division of Bridges’ Service. As an engineer he had a prominent career, along with a creative literary production and intense cultural activity, which from 1959 on and already out of the country, would be followed by not only his international public affirmation as an acclaimed author, but by an outstanding academic career as a literature professor. With an unusually solid humanistic culture and technical knowledge, he always distinguished himself by his method of rigorous and systematic investigation searching archives, museums and libraries in various parts of the world, thus was his inexhaustible openness to all knowledge.

This renowned intellectual critic was thus seen by colleagues in Brazil: “this engineer who knew anatomic pathology and was an authority on paving roads; this writer who was a poet and fiction writer of high level; this penetrating and accurate reader; this connoisseur of art and philosophy could quickly become a master of literature…”

This is how Jorge de Sena presented himself, in an interview to Diário de Lisboa, when in 1968, he returned for the first time, from his exile, to Portugal:

“I was an engineer and worked as such; I was also a writer. literary director of editorials. I was several things to be able to support my family and myself. This created a problem that, along with others that existed in those years, very confused and agitated years, as you know, made life unbearable. (…)”

In summary, in the first phase of his life, even in Portugal, Sena was already a great writer but with full-time employment as an engineer, exercising the latter with permanently stressed and sometimes even conflictual relations. In a second phase, exiled abroad, but by then already as a recognized academic, he was able to intensify and diversify the production of his cultural work and literary work. constructing and processing it so methodically and rigorously as if it were an engineering work.

This double training and experience converge in the wealth of a uniqueness that questions “from the inside” the classic separation between “the two cultures”: the humanistic and the scientific-technical, giving us Jorge de Sena as an exceptional case of dialogue between numbers and words, a complex scientific and cultural integration, as he himself pointed out:

“… the tremendous evil of our time (…) is the split between a literary culture that is intended largely humanistic and is nothing but an organized form of ignorance of the world we live in, and a scientific culture that does not even know of the existence of aesthetic values that give meaning to human life. (…) ”



Jorge de Sena’s simultaneous professional paths were intense and successful in a period of almost two decades of his life.


1st cycle (years 1938-1949)

In his youth, we see him being removed of the chances of a career in the Navy from which he was unjustly excluded from entering the Naval Academy as was his calling, as well as the longed for course in a College of Letters.

He then started his engineering studies, a compromise between mathematics and the professions of family tradition, at the Faculty of Sciences of Lisbon, completing the course in Civil Engineering in November 1944 at the Faculty of Engineering of Porto, where he was enrolled from October 1940.

Even then, these characteristics stood out: “(…) he read a lot: poetry, prose, everything that came to hand in Portuguese, French and English, as well as whatever novelties appeared in the booksellers’ shelves, without neglecting the past authors, that he sometimes reread. And he read taking notes, many notes, in an appropriate notebook he always carried with him, as well as a book to read. In practical workshop c/asses, he even put the book on the counter and read while rasping piece of wood or metal held on the vise. (…) He had a general culture unusual for his age and an exceptional and updated literary culture, in the Portuguese, French or English languages. His ability to grasp and correlate things, facts, ideas and feelings, in space and time, and the consequent lucubration and analytical and critical preparation was amazing. He c/early demonstrated a genuine vocation for literary creation, with all the attributes that it can hold in itself (…) despite having to be engaged in the engineering sciences, which have continued to contribute however, as it turned out later, for its full value as a scholar and as a writer, giving him a broader overview and a sum of knowledge he could and knew how to use and that, otherwise, would be more difficult to acquire.”

In 1942, he trained at the Militia Officers Course in Penafiel and Tancos and in 1945, served one year of compulsory military service as a non-commissioned engineer officer cadet in Engineering Regiment 2, in Lisbon.

That year he wrote to his friend Alberto Serpa, complaining that the mandatory military service prevented him from the engineering apprenticeship’s internships he needed to complete in order to have the engineering charter, and only later, on October 1948, did he obtain the Degree Certificate in Civil Engineering in Porto University, although the Society of Chartered Engineers had granted him the “license for professional practice” No. 2496.

His first engineering technical works in the Urbanization Services of the Ministry of Public Works, in diverse construction works, date from 1945 to 1948: Casa do Povo of Montalvão, chapels and churches, fishermen neighborhoods and urbanization of homes for the poor. In 1946, he concluded his engineering internship at the Vale do Gaio Dam, and in 1947 he worked for the Lisbon City Hall and the General Directorate for Urbanization (National Monuments) of the Public Works Ministery.

In 1948, he carried out the first study of traffic statistics to the Directorate General of Urban Services of the Municipality of Lisbon, then a pioneering one.

He was then hired by the Autonomous Road Board, where among other assignments he integrated the “Office for the Bridge over the Tagus,” today the “25th of April”, being its commission’s Secretary.

As pointed out by his friend and colleague, eng. John Lamas, quoted above, he never felt for engineering the passion he did for the navy, poetry or Mêcia Lopes de Freitas (Leca) for whom he harbored the greatest admiration and whom he married in 1949 in Porto.

Simultaneously, during this first phase in 1938-1949, a time when he asserted himself in the literary career, his activities, achievements, tasks and published works as a writer were multiple and diversified.

In 1938, he began writing his work on numbered notebooks titled “Loose Verse and Prose”, signing with the pseudonym Teles de Abreu:  Genesis, Paradise Lost; Flares and The Complete Character. In 1939, he published “Movimento”, a biweekly journal of Geração Universitária. Nos. 1 and 2, the poem “The Fog” and the essay “On behalf of the poetry called Modern”. Also as Teles de Abreu in 1940 he began to collaborate on “Books of Poetry.” No.2. In  December 1941, he read his lecture at Lisbon’s Catholic University Youth “Rimbaud or Dogma of the Poetic Trinity” later published in “Adventure”. dir. Ruy Cinatti. No 2, 1942. Also from 1942 is his poetry book “Persecution”, ed. Cadernos de Poesia, a debut book dedicated to his grandmother Isabel, who had a strong  influence on him, and poems of “Metamorphoses” and “Crown of the Earth” as well as several other short stories and poems about Porto, where he participated actively in literary meetings, at Bookshop Tavares Martins, cafes and other places.

In 1945, he published poems in cultural magazines and on the first cultural anthology “Poetas Novos de Portugal”, published in Rio de Janeiro by the great Brazilian writer Cecilia Meireles, as well as an article on “Over realistic Poetry”; in 1945 he finished the play “The Unwanted” on António, Prior of Crato and Portugal, written in classic structure, in verse and 4 acts. In 1946, he gave two lectures at two of Porto’s most iconic dubs: the first, at the Clube Fenianos Portuenses on “Florbela Espanca or the expression of the feminine in Portuguese poetry” (then 2 years later, another on “The Poetry of Camões”) and the second, in the Ateneu Comercial do

Porto on “Fernando Pessoa, undisciplinator of souls,” at a time when Pessoa, the second best Portuguese poet, was still very little known, That same year, in which Jorge de Sena began to organize his writings in “Diary and Recollections of Literary Life (Unpublished)” was also published in Porto (Livraria Lello) his book of poems “Crown of the Earth” dedicated to the poet and diplomat Ribeiro Couto and the city of Porto where he wrote this book and met Mêcia Lopes de Freitas, whom he met, still a student, in Porto, and to which he later married and built a family of 9 children, sharing with her a lifetime of intense and fully realized love. In 1948, he participated in 13 transmissions of the program “Romance Policial” [Crime Novel] by António Pedro in Rádio Club Português, doing translations and adaptations to radio drama,


2nd cycle (years 1949-1959)

In the second cycle of his life, in which he was already married, he lived and worked in Lisbon, he had the poem “Ode to the Future” ready for publishing and began publishing in the magazine “Portucale” (Porto, 2nd series, #21 / 22 Mai-Ag. 1949) the “Unwanted” (António Rei). In 1950, he published a book of poems “The Philosopher’s Stone” (Lisboa: Confluência) and in 1951, the play “Motherly Protection” (Lisbon: Revista Unicórnio) as well as the famous editorial “There is but one poetry” in Magazine “Cadernos de Poesia” (No. 6, series 2, May 1951), in which he was an important contributor in the 2nd and 3rd series. In the same year, he participated in the Tivoli Cinema’s Program “Classic Tuesdays” (unforgettable movies), and saw some of his written interventions cut by the censors [5] at the IX International Congress of Roads, held in Funchal, Madeira Island. In 1952, he participated in the Celebration Programme of the XXV anniversary of the JAE (1927-1952) presenting the lecture “Some considerations on traffic statistics” discussed below, and from that year’s October to November, did an internship in engineering in England, delivering at time, in London, a series of six radio chronicles, “Letters from London”, at the Portuguese Language Program of the BBC. He then planned to go with his family to work in Africa where the company Blackwood Hodge from London, interested in signing him as an engineer, had several interests. This failed to happen, though.

In 1954, in less than 3 months (February 12 to April28) he wrote “Evidence”, a long poem in XXI sonnets, the book published the following year (Centro Bibliográfico) and soon seized by PIDE, the political police of the Salazar dictatorship. At the same time, he participated with other prominent figures of Portuguese culture, in the first meetings of the Sociedade Portuguesa de Escritores (Portuguese Writers Society – officially founded in 1956) and translated stories and poems by American authors for “Perspectives of the United States: The arts and letters “(Lisbon: Portugalia, 1955), a universal anthology organized by poet Adolfo Casais Monteiro, his friend, and as him later exiled in Brazil and the U.S.

With Mêcia Sena, he carried out numerous translation works of difficult and important authors, task he continued to develop when living in Brazil.

In 1956, the Director of JAE, the engineer Carlos Couvreur, attested to the definitive appointment of Jorge de Sena to the permanent senior technical staff, stating that he “has consistently superior technical competence proven by his many projects and inspections, an unsurpassed interest and zeal for the services.” In 1957, the same director issued a statement on his behalf for him to attend a specialized course an reinforced and pre-stressed concrete, near London, under the auspices of the British Council, by the Cement and Concrete Association, between 15 and 24 September of that same year. Indeed, Jorge de Sena was already quite skilled on this subject and had some professional experience since in the JAE he was the author of technical opinions on the first Portuguese projects with reinforced and pre-stressed concrete presented there and was linked, in 1953, to the appraisal of the then considered innovative project of the Abreiro Bridge over the Tua River, inaugurated around that time (topic developed further, item 4 and 5).

At that time, in London, he met the great Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira, with whom he became good friends, and English writer Edith Sitwell with whom he corresponded.

In 1958, he published the book of poems “Fidelity” (Lisbon: Moraes Ed.) and “Portuguese Lyric Poetry” (3rd series. Lisbon: Portugália), the most important anthology of 20th century Portuguese poetry, whose poem selection, preface and notes are his responsibility.

In 1959, being also editorial director and consultant for several publishers such as the “Livros do Brasil”, he actively participated as such in the national success that was the reception and tour of Portugal of the known Brazilian writer and novelist Érico Verissimo. He also published “About Portuguese poetry” (Lisbon: Attica), his first collection of essays. In August of that same year he left for Brazil, leaving his career as an engineer for a career as a university professor in the field of Literary Studies and Culture, pursuing and bringing to new heights his already remarkable journey as a writer, poet, novelist, essayist, critic, playwright ad translator.



 In a brief approach to this dimension of Jorge de Sena expressed in the almost mathematical and scientific rigor of his studies and essays, especially those of recognized importance an Camões, hut also in many of his numerous poems, we begin approaching his technical work, considered one of the first of its kind in Portugal, on road traffic statistics, wriuen in the early 1950s (see items 4 and 5).

In his best known conference, even if little studied, about statistics on road traffic which he delivered at the IX International Roads Congress, held in 1952, he specifically mobilized numerous cases and facets of the problem that, in a wider cultural perspective, he showed he mastered exhaustively and critically. In fact, Jorge de Sena had always been interested in this subject: he was the organizer of the 2nd General Census of the country (1949-1950), having been, later on, invited by Lisbon’s City Hall as organizer and consultant for the 1st General Course on Traffic at the capital.

The lecture began with preliminary considerations, such as the bareness of the subject, which he considered to be “… a bit like bureaucracy, administration, things considered the antithesis of technique but important for the complete mastery of the technical spirit.”

He advocated, with reservations (given the very limitations of counts and censuses), the application of modem traffic statistics, which he reflexively defined as “the reduction of the miscellaneous traffic which daily ruins a bit the better of pavements, the battalions of numbers in close ranks, and some charts or graphics more visually compelling than actually significant.”

After, he critically reflected: “The economic reality of traffic as statistics revealed it interposes itself between the goals of JAE the Road Plan and the funds that JAE has to meet the needs of the road network in its charge.” And concerning the issue of enlargement and improvement of road layouts he cited the example of the UN and its agencies for economic coordination, which can be understood as an implicit criticism to the Portuguese isolation concerning policies of greater openness pursued by that international organization.

He also referred to the urgent need for economic policy coordination and roads policy considering that “material progress engenders itself …” He continued with a comparison of the technical-economic situation of the national road system, in an enlargement period with the state of the rail network system, by then already entering a retraction phase: “If the road creates progress expectations it allows to channel them in a circulation system in which avoidable losses can be minimized. This system is capable of complexity and adaptation to the intended purpose to which the rail system cannot aspire, having already economically achieved the equilibrium stage from which the instruments of economics start to be deficient if its exploitation is not integrated into the overall profitability.”

He ended regarding the effects of technical modernization in the change on the lives of people, a markedly social, cultural and political concern: “On the other hand (and that has been widely noticed) the road and the cars driving by it will thin and fade, the electrification, the local traditions, that bastion of usages and habits, gestures and speeches that isolation preserved the sum of which constituted, inside the country’s borders, a national feature.

You could almost say that JAE or other administrations that preceded it are responsible for having put in the path of annihilation, the Mirandese dialect, the custams of Lapa and Montemuro, the barbarian habits of Montalegre, the Celtic houses of Martinlongo region. But even though they’re interesting, moving or reputable, all of these are surviving archaisms. In exchange, the work of JAE contributed and contributes still as few have to give the scattered populations a new, common denominator, truly solid for it’s founded on mutual knowledge, the interpenetration of interests, ultimately in the experienced and aware creation of a deep and civilized national unity.”

Notable here is his deep technical consciousness and the recognition of the “priority of the technique”, a quality that Jorge de Sena values in men of letters and considers “rare”, as he expressly mentioned in the letter that, in that sarne year of 1952, he wrote to his friend and comrade, Portuguese philosopher and pedagogue Delfim Santos, with whom he maintained prolonged and intense intellectual interaction.

As initially mentioned, we can also find, in Senian poetic, literary and essayistic work, multiple indications of the fruitful dialogue between his solid training and technical-scientific consciousness and his and vast cultural and literary erudition, particularly in some of his Camões themed essays, plus poems and texts of literary critic such as the famous preface to the book “Complete Poems (1956) 1967)”: The Poetry of António Gedeão (objective analysis outline) an important study of Gedeão’s poetry (pseudonym of A. Rómulo de Carvalho, historian and popularize of science) who had been his high school physics and chemistry teacher in Lisbon.

The importance of Jorge de Sena as one of the best and greatest Portuguese writers of the twentieth century that succeeded in introducing scientific rationality in literature (Vitor Aguiar e Silva) is therefore undisputed. This is a topic that, in itself, deserves a profound analysis under the scope of this thought’s study, here but introduced.



 As already pointed out, Jorge de Sena exercised the profession of civil engineer for 11 years, mostly in the Autonomous Roads Board, where among many other technical functions, planning and participating in conferences, specialized training activities and external consultancy, he was also nominated for various positions.

We will take a more detailed view of his professional career as an engineer of Roads of Portugal (ex – JAE), followed by some personal considerations and criticisms about this profession, set out in letters that he wrote to his wife from Brazil.

Jorge Cândido de Sena, at the age of 29, showed up at the Directorate of Conservation Services Board Autonomous Roads (JAE), for service as an interim 3rd class civil engineer on 15 December 1948, having been conferred power on the same date, and the corresponding Certificate of Public Functions issued, on December 20th, Serving in the Technical Department of the Conservation Services, as of 22 December of the sarne year, he was hired on February 20, 1951, to the technical personnel, being definitively appointed 6 years later.

In February 1953, he was transferred from that Bureau to the Bureau of Technical Services and Bridges, and on 15 September of the same year, he was appointed to serve as secretary for the “Commission for the study of bus and train links between Lisbon and the South bank of the Tagus”, a position he filled since 7/20/1953, and from which he asked his resignation, issued in September 1955.

In April 1954, he was invited to be Chief of Staff of the Minister of Public Works, Eng. Eduardo Arantes e Oliveira, having refused,

The following year, in request to the engineer Director of Bridges Services (March 1955), Jorge de Sena asked permission to “freely exercise his profession outside working hours”, which was granted “provided that the work to be performed does not conflict directly or indirectly with the services of this Board.”

The technical work, opinions, projects and other specialized services that Jorge de Sena had under his responsibility at the JAE, by then an important and expanding national public institution, were numerous and diverse.

In his service record of 1953, these activities appeared developed individually and / or in collaboration: “studies and projects” (Cobres and Mary Delgada road bridges and the study for the temporary use as bridge of the metallic mounting stretch of Bridge Vila Franca ); “Works” (tracking work on the bridges of Fão, Luis I in Porto, Chamusca, Arrotas, Vageira, Vila do Conde), “Projects Review” (development and collaboration in the preparation of various technical opinions of the review committee, among them, those referring in particular to Abreiro Bridge, Gafanha Bridge projects, the project expressly commissioned in pre-stressed concrete, revision and correction of the projects of the pontoons of pre-stressed concrete for Via Norte, the first project on pre-stressed concrete submitted to Division of Bridges Services); “Other Services of the Directorate” (visits to various works for observation and study, particularly to Viana do Castelo and Figueira da Foz bridges).

In 1954, continuing to perform various functions cumulatively, his professional activities are numerous, as per the “note of the work and services performed or directed by him”: Projects (concerning the National Road 208 overpasses at Via Norte and Alvito, Ribeira da Lixa bridge in EN b108, bridge over the Leça River in pre-stressed concrete at Via Norte and review of projects Sardoal Pontoon, Água do Alto Bridge in San Miguel island, Azares, and Almadafe Bridge);  Supervision of works and works by direct administration (the contract for construction of the bridges over the streams of Cobres and Maria Delgada, and supervision of works and studies of the Caminha Bridge, assistance to the D.Luís I Bridge, Porto, works for the Fão bridge accesses. supervision of the geophysical drillings of the Tagus valley, the first study of its kind conducted in Portugal and supervision of deep drilling for the Tagus Commission studies); Studies and Information (assistance to the Director on the project for the Directorate of Faro Roads building, the projects of Gafanha Bridge and the alternative for EN109 road, the adequate destination for the metal bridge in Régua, various arrangements on the bridge D.Luís I in Porto, Vila do Conde bridge, Studies and dealings relating to reports on traffic and its characteristics of the  Swedish Academy, supervision of an intern on the Sabugueiro bridge project, pavement replacement on the D. Luís I Bridge in Santarém, a text on conservation and inspection of works of art. for the ‘Road Conservation Personnel Manual’).

In 1955, in addition to the normal work at the Department of Bridges and other services in accumulation, Jorge de Sena was nominated for Secretary of the Organizing Committee and member of the Executive Committee of the General Secretariat of the lnternational Congress of Bridges and Structures, to be held in 1956. He was invited by the Department for Urbanization Studies of Lisbon City Hall as organizer and consultant for the 1st Course in General Traffic at that city, because he had been the organizer of the 2nd General Census of the country, and always had been interested in these subjects. He engaged himself in the elaboration and review of projects, monitoring activities in several works in the North and studies and technical opinions pertaining to them.

In 1956, the activities and extra responsibilities continued – Directorate of previous years, as indeed when in 1957 he was designated to attend, at Wexham Springs, near London, an 8-day course on reinforced and pre-stressed concrete, area of his expertise and experience. He continued as a consultant to the Department for Urbanization Studies of Lisbon City Hall’s Course for General Traffic, whose organization, refinement and report elaboration he directed and wrote until the end.

In August 1959, on a trip to Brazil to participate in the IV lnternational Colloquium on Luso-Brazilian Studies at the University of Bahia, he decided to accept the invitation extended to him to stay in Brazil as Professor of Literary Theory at the Faculty of Philosophy, Science and Arts of Assis (São Paulo), having joined him, in October of that year, his by then already extended family.

At that time, Jorge de Sena stopped out of his own free will, and forever, his course of obvious success as an engineer:

“(…) I’m agreeing to Assis to begin with, and to finally enjoy a full life with you and my job without engineering, which may eventually happen for, in this field, I also got some assessing or actual possibilities. (…)”

However, in a subsequent letter, also sent from Rio de Janeiro to his wife, we see that the issues and work related to JAE continued to occupy his attention:

“With my key to the Board, it is best to open the drawers and bring home everything that belongs to me and is still there as well as duplicates of Lixa, Rio Leça, Rabaçal (the new preliminary draft – and ask what happened to it) that are on my office’s bookcase. It is curious how of all that is papers, books, property, I feel detached from.”

However, in another letter from the next day he communicated the final decision to disconnect from his professional activities as an engineer, requiring unlimited license, which is granted:

“… I made two requests: one asking that until September 15th, because the invitations continued, it would be considered as service commission, another asking unlimited license. We came here to win our freedom, my love – there is no reason not to present the situation as it is …”

Days later, he would vent out so:

“I’m sick of Engineering”



His name is doubly connected to the Tua Line, in an indirect and mediatized way as a writer through the creation of a remarkable character in his only and unfinished novel Signs of Fire. The character was built with factual elements as anowner of a Port wine estate, in Tua, either directly, as we have seen already, as a civil engineer specializing in bridges and pre-stressed concrete, through technical opinions on the construction project of the modem Abreiro Bridge (1953-1957).

The current Abreiro Bridge is a focal point of passage over the Tua River connecting the municipality of Bragança (Abreiro) to the municipality of Vila Flor (Vieiro) by the EN 314.


[Figure 3 – Abreiro bridge: elegant lines of the arch]


The ancient Abreiro Bridge or the legendary “Devil’s Bridge” which collapsed in the historic violent floods of 1909 existed for centuries. What’s left of that bridge are two granite bridge piers visible to anyone traveling in Tua railway line, which indudes a station to serve Abreiro on the opposite bank. To replace it, another bridge was built, more modem, made of reinforced and pre-stressed concrete with 91 meter span and a single arch, which gives it beauty and singularity considering the time it was designed and built. Beneath the arch, on the left, passes the Tua line, currently dosed.


Nigel Hayman Photo, 28 June 2000












Inaugurated on June 23, 1957, with official ceremonies, the Abreiro Bridge became known for “the purity of the lines of its arch.” In addition to the advances in architecture, its construction reduced the connection between the two banks of the Tua River by about 30 km, which means an investment in the region.

The bold project by the engineer Jacinto Sarmento Correia de Araujo, a professor of Structures at FEUP and author of projects that are now heritage listed, is considered one of the most important projects of the Department of Civil Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, in the decade of 1950. It is one of the first Portuguese reinforced concrete bridges, in a sense comparable to current Infante Bridge in Porto with “an identity of its own, [becauseJ it is the deck, not the arch that has a higher stiffness. The Swiss bridges designed by Robert Maillart and Abreiro Bridge … are examples of bridges with the same philosophy, albeit with more modest dimensions.”

Its construction took place in a historical context of marked increase of national road infrastructure associated with the onset of industrialization, investment in public works and the creation of infrastructure for the modernization of Portugal, marked by a repressive political regime and a troubled and difficult situation, still due to some extent, to World War II and the postwar period, in which all efforts were gathered for the reconstruction of Europe.

Jorge de Sena, who was then 34 years old and already well known as a writer on both sides of the border, and an engineer of recognized standing, was from the beginning directly connected to the design and construction of the Abreiro Bridge between the years 1953 and 1957.

He was, as can be seen by the attached document, one of four engineers of the Commission responsible for technical assessment and approval of the construction project for the Abreiro Bridge over the Tua River, in Correia Araujo’s contract with JAE, enrolled in the Bridges Works Plan of that organization, for the biennium 1952-1953 and consists of 3 volumes, two pieces written (specifications, description, measurements, prices, budget and supporting calculations) and one of construction drawings, containing what is reported on page 2 of the technical opinion (attached).

You can read in this technical opinion / report that the Abreiro Bridge for transposition of the Tua River, connected to National Road No. 314, then under construction, was considered the most important road for the development of the region (Chaves – Carrazedo of Montenegro – Murça – Abreiro – Vila Flor), integrating the National Road Plan and connecting the Abreiro station of the Tua Line to the village of the same name. Because of the valley’s features it was considered one of the hardest continuity solutions of that road, Among many other technical details referred in the Opinion it’s stated that the analytical calculation done followed the general scheme used before in Barca d’ Alva Bridge already appreciated by the Superior Council of Public Works, whose guiding principles are presented. The accuracy in calculations and additional studies, not common at the time, was justified by the large vault demolition foreseen. The project is, in this technical opinion, globally considered a model and with a bolder design than would be usual, having the team spirit of the design engineer been emphasized.



In summary, this communication developed over direct archival sources, the theoretical and methodological framework of social studies of science and techniques, addressed Jorge de Sena’s technical and literary relations with the Tua Line. This renowned writer of the contemporary Portuguese culture was simultaneously a civil engineer of the Autonomous Road Board of Portugal (1948-1959), where he performed important duties and positions, having been invited to the position of chief of staff of the Minister of Public Works, Arantes de Oliveira, but declined. He willingly abandoned a career as an engineer, in 1959, exiled in Brazil, and was a prominent opponent of the Salazar dictatorship and was until his premature death in 1978, professor of Luso-Brazilian and American Studies at Universities in Brazil (Assis and Araraquara, Estado de S. Paulo, a1965, 1959) and at the USA (Wisconsin and Santa Barbara – Califomia, 1965-1978).

We drew up the dual multifaceted and multidimensional trajectory over 2 decades (1938-1959) living in Portugal, focusing the spirit of Renaissance universality. In an early stage, Sena was already a great writer with a job as a full-time engineer, recognized for his competence, who exercised functions in permanent tension and conflict. In a second phase, exiled abroad, he became a professor in the field of literary and cultural studies, intensifying and diversifying its cultural and literary work, building and outlining it as if it were an engineering work.

The pioneer overcoming of the classic antagonism between the “two cultures” of humanities and science Jorge de Sena achieved is highlighted. This facet is resumed in the approach made to his technical-scientific thinking, emphasizing his fundamental importance as a writer, through the introduction of scientific rationality to literature.

In the biographical outline of the intense biographic and professional trajectory of engineer and writer Jorge de Sena exercised cumulative and successfully, we noted, in the cultural and literary domain, the publishing of five poetry books, two plays, two poetic anthologies, and numerous translations of classics of world literature, literary conferences, active collaboration in journals and newspapers, cultural and editorial intervention, and, in engineering, many technical opinions, projects, consulting services, specialized training in England and supervision of various public works, including roads and bridges integrated in the National Road Plan that was expanding in the 1950s.

We end approaching the dual relationship of Jorge de Sena with Tua, whether at literary level, with the construction of a “factual” character, a land owner in Tua, in his sole and unfinished novel “Signs of Fire.” a mark of the Portuguese literature of the 20th century, already adapted into a motion picture, whether in terms of engineering, through participation in co-authoring the technical opinion of JAE. 1953, on the proposed construction of the modem Abreiro Bridge over the Tua River, of only one reinforced concrete arch, designed by renowned professor Engineer Correia de Araújo Porto, anemblematic projecto at, the time, of the history of Portuguese engineering.


The Minister of Public Works

Your Excellency:

Presented to the Commission by the Direction of the Autonomous Roads Board Services, which refers to the 2nd paragraph of article no. 3, of the Decree-Law no. 36,353, of 17 June 1947, the project of the bridge over the Tua River in Abreiro, on the

National Road 314, elaborated by the engineer, Mr. Francisco Sarmento Correia de Araújo, according to contract no. 1010, was signed between the engineer and the Autonomous Roads Board on 2.6 February 1953.

The completion of this work is part of the Autonomous Roads Board Bridge Work Plan for the biennium of 1952.-1953, under no. 16.

The project consists of three volumes, two which are written components and one which is composed of construction drawings, containing respectively:




1 – Descriptive Memory

2. – Specifications

3 – Measurements

4 – Price Series

5 -Budget



6 -Justifying Calculations



CD 1 – Elevation

CD 2 – General layout

CD 3 – General construction elements

CD 4 – Reinforced concrete details

CD 5 – Meeting details

CD 6 – Railing and pavement details

CD 7 – Expansion joints details

CD 8 – Sewage details

CD 9 – Concreting layout

CD 10 – Removal of centering device scheme


The specifications are perfectly elaborated and follow the guidelines of norms in use for the Board’s projects.

The measurements and series of prices are well elaborated.


The budget amounts to 2,942,525$00 – (TWO MILLION NINE HUNDRED AND


All parts of the project that the Commission considered in condition to be approved were reviewed.







[1] Interview by Mecia de Sena, Santa Barbara (California, USA), 15 November 2011

[2] Conference by Eng. Ferreira Lamas, FEUP, 2011, op. cit.

[3] Cited by João Antonio Ferreira Lamas, “O escritor Jorge de Sena visto por um colega de faculdade”,

conference in Faculty of Engineering, University of Porto, 28 April 2011

[4] CÃNDIDO, António – Intelectuais portugueses e a cultura brasileira. In GOBBI, Marcia Valeria Zarobonio, FERNANDES, Maria Lúcia Outeiro, JUNQUEIRA, Renata Soares, org. – Intelectuais portugueses e a cultura brasileira: Depoiementos e Testemunhos. São Paulo: Editora UNES P, 2002, p.28

[5] These reviews of movies have been published by Portuguese Cinematheque, 1988, under the title “On Cinema”, with an introduction by Mécia de Sena.


In: MCCANTS, A; BEIRA, E.; CORDEIRO, J.M.L. & LOURENÇO, P., ed.  Railroads in historical context: construction, costs and consequences. Vila Nova de Gaia, Inovatec, v. II, 2012, p. 49-68

[*] Professora da Universidade Lusófona do Porto e investigadora do CITCEM, Universidade do Porto. Doutorada em História Contemporânea pela Universidade do Minho. Professora reformada do Instituto Politécnico do Porto.