Cultural Algarve

Algarve as under Arab rule for more than five centuries, and its Arab influence marked the destiny of the region, starting with its name: Al-Gharb, O Ocidente. To this day, this presence, from the 8th until the 13th century, is still very much present in the names of the villages, in agriculture, in the architecture of monuments, on the terraces and chimneys or in the whitewash of the many houses in many villages of the Algarve.

In the mid- 13th century, the lands of the Algarve are the last ones of Portugal to be conquered under Muslim rule. After long advances and retreats, the Christian reconquest had the precious collaboration of the Knights of the Order of Santiago, led by Paio Peres Correia, to end the Arab presence in the Algarve during the reign of King Afonso III and join the region to the kingdom of Portugal. And, thus, the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves was founded.

Later, at the beginning of the 15th century, the start of the Portuguese maritime expansion brings new life to the lands and people of the Algarve. Lagos and Sagres are forever linked to Infante D. Henrique and to the Discoveries. Even today, in Ponta de Sagres, a giant stone finger points to the Atlantic Ocean in a clear allusion to the courage of the Algarve navigators, such as Gil Eanes, who took to the sea looking for new worlds.

The whole area of the Silves municipality was inhabited during the Neolithic and Metal Age, as confirmed by the many archaeological findings. There is an abundance of megalithic monuments such as the menhirs, in red sandstone of the region or in limestone.

The Arade river was, since ancient times, a route of penetration for the boats of the Mediterranean people, attracted to the copper and iron extracted in western Algarve.

It was due to the navigability of the Arade river and its strategic position atop a hill, dominating a vast space, that Silves owes its foundation, possibly during the Roman rule. But it’s with the Muslim occupation, initiated around 714/716, that Silves becomes the prosperous city that, in the 11th century, would become capital of the Algarve and, according to some authors, surpassed Lisbon in size and importance.

During this period, Silves is also a cultural centre where poets, historians and jurists lived. The religious and political upheavals that ravaged the Islamic world in the 11th and 12th centuries deeply impacted Silves, by the frequent changes of their masters and the sieges and battles between rival factions. This fact was used by King Sancho to, using his army and the support of Northern European crusaders on their way to Palestine, siege the city in 1189.

The struggle for Silves was long and cruel. The Portuguese domain remained for less than two years, since that, in 1191, the city was recovered by the Moors. In spite of having lost a lot of its population and wealth, Silves was granted bishopric seat, as well as military government seat, after the city was definitely conquered, during the Christian occupation of the Algarve (1242/1249), concluded in the reign of King Afonso III.

Silves went through difficult times during the following centuries. With the loss of trade with North Africa and the progressive silting of the river, it witnessed the lucrative maritime traffic move away, taking with it its economic, political and military influence. In parallel, places like Lagos, Portimão and Faro became more relevant.

Natural disasters like the plague, earthquakes and fevers, caused by the swamp that was now the Arade river, also contributed to the decline of the city. The coup de grace was given in 1534, with the papal bull which allowed the transfer of the bishopric seat to Faro. Silves never regained its past splendour and, for nearly three centuries, was it remainded a poorly inhabited city.

The dried fruit and, above all, the cork, brought, in the last half of the 19th century, new life and prosperity to the city, which became a major centre for its transformation. Today, Silves is a city proud of its past, seat of a municipality with a booming economy.

The Castle of Silves is one of the architectural components of a complete and sophisticated defensive system that once encircled the entire city of Silves.

Despite the indications pointing to a possible defensive stronghold of Roman or pre-Roman times in the current hill where the city is located, what currently remains of that whole defensive system are the traces of the Almohad era of Islamic occupation (12th-13th Century). This was the time of the struggles of the Christian Reconquest carried out by the first five kings of Portugal.

This system was made up of the Alcáçova, the Walls of Almedina, the Breastplate, the Walls of Arrabalde of which we can still see the Rebola Arch and even a possible and probable existence of moats and barbicans.

With close to 12,000 square metres, surrounded by a polygonal wall, built in Silves stoneware (a known red sandstone) and mud core, the interior of the Castle is now a modern museum space used, from time to time, as stage for performing arts' shows. This is a romantic location, one of the most beautiful sights of this ancient workers' city.

The walls of Alcáçova are reinforced by eleven towers, two of which albarrãs, that stand out of the wall panel through a walkway.

The walls of Alcáçova have two ways out: the main gives access to the Medina (the city); the secondary, smaller and turning north, became known as the Door of Treason. Only surpassed by the Fortress of Sagres, the Castle of Silves is the second most visited monument in the Algarve. 

Cathedral (Sé)
The building features a mixture of architectural styles among which the Gothic. Its construction in believed to have started in the 13th century over an old Arab mosque, after the reconquest of the city from the Moors.

The big earthquake of 1755 destroyed many elements of the church, which led to the introduction of new changes in Baroque style, visible in the upper parts of the main façade in the south portal and the tower.

Several bishops and noble families of Silves are burried here, as well as the tombstone of King João II, who died and was buried here in 1495, only to be later moved to the Batalha Monastery.

Cross of Portugal
The Cruz de Portugal (Cross of Portugal) is considered one of the most beautiful sculptural pieces of Gothic art in Portugal. The Cruz de Portugal is an almost 3-metre high cross, classified as a national monument since 1910. 

The enigmatic monument is located east of the city of Silves and was probably created in the late 15th century or the early 16th century. The cross’ origins are unknown, carved on both sides in the flamboyant Gothic style. 

Roman Bridge
The Roman Bridge is characterised by a mixture of architectural styles. If, on the one hand the board is ogive-shaped, in a medieval style, it is also supported by five round arches, whose pillars are protected by cut-seas in Roman style. Rebuilt in the 15th century according to an original bridge from Roman period, it is one of the traces which confirm the existence of a Roman road nearby.

The Pillory at Praça do Município was rebuilt in the 1990s using information and original fragments from the 16th century. Its original location would be at Rua do Pelourinho, to the rear of today’s City Hall. The Pillory was a column where criminals were sentenced and openly punished.

The Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Mártires
The Chapel of Nossa Senhora dos Mártires was founded in the 12th century, but nothing remains of the initial design. With an 18th century facade, in this Chapel are buried the Crusaders who died during the first take of the city from the Moors, by King Sancho, in 1189.

Part of the prehistory southwestest end of the Algarve, the area of the municipality of Lagos is inhabited since ancient times, as proved by several archaeological sites. The original name of the city - Lacohriga - points to Celtic origin, about 2,000 years BC. During a long period of time, it was a port frequented by Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians.

Under the Roman rule, the city thrived and grew, making it necessary to build a dam for water supply and a bridge on the riverside of Bensafrim. In the 10th century, the Arabs built a defensive wall, which still failed to prevent the Christian domain from 1249 onwards.

The 15th century is considered the gold century for Lagos. The city, due to its location opposite Africa, becomes, for nearly forty years, the port of departure and arrival for ships that, year after year, were discovering the coast of that continent. Trade centre for exotic products, ivory, gold and silver from Africa, Lagos builds new churches and homes, and sees a growth in the number of traders, as well as domestic and foreign bankers.

The 1755 earthquake and the tsunami that followed destroyed much of the city. Only from mid- 19th century on, with the canned fish industry and trade, does the city start recovering its prosperity. Nowadays, Lagos is a dynamic and active city, proud of its past.

The Slave market
Site of the first sales of slaves brought by the ships returning from Africa (15th century). Four arches at floor level define a patio. In one of the walls, the weapons of Marquis of Nisa (17th century). On the side, a window (former door) of the 15th century.

Church of Santo António
It was rebuilt in 1769 by initiative of the command of the Lagos Infantry Regiment (served as a chapel). For this reason, the patron saint's image received the pay of captain and, from 1780, became lieutenant-general.

On the lateral façade, a large porch formed by a Renaissance portal (16th century) from the former Maritime Commitment, provides an access to the Municipal Museum.

Its main appeal is the interior, due to the richness and profusion of gilt covering the high altar and the lateral walls, making it one of the main examples of this artistic expression so characteristic of the Portuguese Baroque style.

The capricious Baroque forms are joined by curious naturalistic notes in the pedestals and lateral panels of the pilasters (slaughter of the pig, fishing scene, etc.). Under the choir, a gilded panel represents the Three Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity).

Church of Santo Sebastião
Built in the 14th and 16th centuries over an ancient chapel, it was damaged with the 1755 earthquake. Inside, three naves are supported by Doric columns. Tile panel with different patterns, with emphasis on the polychromes representing birds and pitchers of scales (18th century). In the main altar, there is a monumental image from Brazil, of Nossa Senhora da Glória (18th century), a gift from King João V to the former Capuchos Convent, and a crucifix (16th century) who tradition says was at the battle of Alcácer Quibir (1578).

High on a hill, the Church has a privileged viewpoint over Lagos and the sea.

City walls
The fence facing the sea dates, presumably, from the Carthaginian or Roman presence, with Arab and Christian reedifications. Two towering albarrã towers defend the entrance of the São Gonçalo door. 

The remaining walls around the city were built between 1520 and the end of the 16th century to protect the new neighbourhoods, emerging quickly due to the international trade. They include several doors and a group of ramparts adapted to the artillery shot.

The walls offers good panoramic views over the city, the bay and the Monchique mountains. Lagos defence structure also includes several buildings of historical and architectural interest.

São Gonçalo. A Saint born to fishers parent
Born in Lagos, around 1360, to fisher parents, Gonçalo showed signs of spirituality even at a young age. After attending the University of Lisbon, he entered the Order of St. Augustine, becoming prior of several of its convents. He was a sacred speaker and musician. His intervention in the miraculous rescue of fishermen brought him fame and worship, and his beatification was granted in 1778.

Ponta da Bandeira Fortress
In front of the entrance of the Bensafrim riverside, the Fortress defends the old port. This is a 17th century construction with moat, drawbridge and imposing door weapons. Inside, it houses a small chapel with 17th century tiles. It is an excellent viewpoint to observe the entire city.

The other fortification that defended Lagos - the Pinhão Fortress - was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake and part of the cliff where it sat separated from the coast, where stone walls can still be seen. In place of the replaced battery, a private residence was recently built.

Governors Castle
Arab construction, possibly an old fortified village, who underwent multiple subsequent changes. During the 16th/17th centuries, it served as residence to the governors and Captain generals of the Algarve.

On the façade, we can see a Manueline style window (16th century), by which, according to tradition, King Sebastião attended mass before his departure to the fateful battle of Alcácer Quibir. In the garden, there is a panel by Portuguese sculptor João Cutileiro, evocative of the battle, and a sculpture to navigator Gil Eanes.

The History and the myth of Sagres are mixed with what was once, for centuries, the farthest point of the known world – the Cape of São Vicente. Wrapped in an aura of mystery and respect, imposed by the coast, the wind and the wild vegetation, its mythical sense is almost palpable. 

Since the Neolithic era that Cape São Vicente is used as a place of worship. Already in the 4th century BC, Greek authors reported religious cerimonies involving libations and the prohibition of the presence of humans at night, as it was a place frequented by gods.

The name "Sagres" comes from the sacred name given by the Romans to this promontory, Promontorium Sacrum, place where the sunset made the waters simmer. The most important ruins in the region include a house, spas and fish salting tanks at Boca do Rio, as well as traces of a house and fish salting tanks on Salema beach.

Martinhal beach contains traces of a great ceramic centre with three ovens used for the production of amphoras. In the small islands in front of Martinhal there are also ruins of tanks for the salting of fish.

Climbing the promontory, consulting with the gods and keeping promises was a mandatory ritual for all sailors who ventured out into the sea, populated by terrible monsters.

It was here that Infante D. Henrique, founded the school that contributed to the discovery of the world. This is were the globalisation of the rest of the world began.

Fortress of Sagres
Listed as a National Monument, the original fortress of Infante D. Henrique (Prince Henry, the Navigator), dates back to the 15th century. It was destroyed during the incursions of Sir Francis Drake to the south coasts of Spain and Portugal during the 16th century, having been rebuilt during the 16th to 18th centuries.

Compass rose
This 43 m diameter circle, with 32 stone rays is thought to belong to Infante D. Henrique, only discovered in 1921. It is known as the compass rose, although some scollars believe that it was once a sun clock.

Church of Nossa Senhora da Graça
Built on the foundations of the original church of Santa Maria, ordered by Infante D. Henrique, this 16th century Church has an image of St. Vincent, which came from the convent in S. Vicente Cape. In it you can see the tomb of a 16th-century Spanish captain who helped defend the fortress from Sir Francis Drake’s attacks in 1587 and the tomb of two commanders of the fortress during the 17th century.

Fortress of Cape São Vicente
King João III ordered the construction of this fortress in the 16th century to protect the adjacent Franciscan convent from pirate attacks. The main door bears the king's arms. The tower was destroyed by Sir Francis Drake’s attacks and rebuilt in the 17th century.

São Vicente Cape Lighthouse
Originally built in 1846, the lighthouse underwent amplification and modernisation works. It is considered one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe and watches over one of the busiest trade routes in the world.

Megalithic monuments
The landscape around Sagres abounds in traces of the Algarve’s prehistoric past, confirming the belief that the Sagres and S. Vicente Capes were ancient sites of devotion. Various menhirs and cromeleques dating back to the 4th and 3rd centuries BC are scattered around the region, the most notable examples being the Aspradantas, Milrei, Padrão and Monte dos Amantes.

Sir Francis Drake’s secret passages
At the service of Queen Elizabeth, the pirate (better known as "El Draque” - “The Dragon” - by the Spaniards) Sir Francis Drake was here, and in action during many years. There are still traces of the secret passages where he fled with the treasures looted from the many ships that stopped here.