On 21 and 22 May 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, visited four World Heritage Sites in northern Portugal. He was accompanied throughout his trip by the President of the Portuguese National Commission to UNESCO, Ambassador Fernando Andresen Guimarães.
The Director-General's first visit was to the Prehistoric Rock-Art Sites in the Côa Valley , an exceptional concentration of rock carvings from the upper Palaeolithic period (22,000 to 10,000 B.C.). Mr Matsuura examined with experts art works from the two main sites in the archaeological park, Ribeira de Pisco and Penascosa. This included the engravings of several animal figures, as well as one of the rare representations of Palaeolithic man. The Director-General was briefed on the ongoing excavation and conservation efforts at the site, where 944 carvings have so far been discovered, as well as outreach and educational activities carried out by the park authorities. He also visited the construction site of the new Côa River Valley archaeological museum, accompanied by the mayor of Vila Nova de Foz Côa, Mr Emílio António Pessoa Mesquita.
Mr Matsuura then drove through the spectacular vineyards and drystone terraces of the Alto Douro Wine Region. The Alto Douro has produced wine for some two thousand years, and since the 18th century has been famous the world over for its main product, port wine. The Director-General visited a large Quinta - or winery - where he was taken through the ancient and modern methods of port making.
The following day, Mr Matsuura travelled to the Historic Centre of Guimarães. Together with the town's mayor, Dr António Magalhães, he visited the centre's main medieval sites, several of which date back to the 12th century. He was also shown new cultural and educational projects launched in conjunction with the celebration of Guimarães as European Capital of Culture in 2012.
The Director-General's last stop was the Historic Centre of Oporto, where he met with the mayor of Porto, Dr Rui Rio, before exploring with a number of local experts the city's rich and varied architecture. The latter reflects the urban cultures of many different periods - Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical and modern.