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All About Portugal | September 30, 2020

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Portimao, the heart of the Algarve

Praia da Rocha - Portimao
Clara Campos

Portimao, an important touristic destination of the Algarve, attracts tourists since the end of the 19th century thanks to its beaches’ beauty.

Portimao, the heart of the Algarve has been attracting people since the Neolithic period.
Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians were drawn to the place mainly due to the fact that the mouth of the Arade River provides a safe harbor and therefore offered the perfect conditions to be a trading point. In fact, the Carthaginians founded here Portus Hanibalis about 550 BC.

History of Portimao

The territory was also occupied by the Romans and the Visigoths before the Moorish domain that lasted from 711 until 1249. By then, Portimao was called Burj Munt and the Arade River was an important access to the major city of Xelb, today’s Silves.

The Moorish occupation of Portimao ended in 1249 when the city was conquered by the troops of King Afonso III. The settlement developed and in 1453 became a “vila” (a small town). It became necessary to protect the new vila from the often attacks of pirates and corsairs therefore were built defensive walls and the forts from St. John in Ferragudo and St. Catherine in Praia da Rocha. 10 years later, Afonso V authorized the foundation of a new settlement named S. Lourenço da Barrosa that became the starting point for the urban center of Portimão, and in 1476 the king donated Vila Nova de Portimao to D. Gonçalo Vaz de Castelo Branco.
Portimão - River view
Besides fishing and trade mainly linked to the export of figs, oil, wine and brooms and to the import of slaves and sugar from Brazil and Africa, naval construction was also essential for the development of Portimao. However this development was interrupted during the 17th and 18th centuries and especially after the earthquake of 1755 and the following tsunami that inflicted severe damages. Marquês de Pombal tried to minimize the damages and 20 years after he elevated Portimao to the status of city, aiming to make it a bishopric, but Queen Maria I vetoed his project. Therefore Portimao only became a city in 1924 under the orders of Manuel Teixeira Gomes then President of the Republic.
Portimão - beach view
During the 19th century the sea was once more the key to a new development period in Portimao as the fish canning industry boosted local and regional economy. Until the recession that came in the early 1980’s Portimao remained as one of the most important Portuguese centers of fishing and canning production.
Since the end of the 19th century tourists have been coming to Portimao drawn by the beauty of Praia da Rocha and Santa Catarina beaches. On the first years of the 20th century, the tourism industry increased immensely with the construction of houses and chalets along the coast and the opening of Praia da Rocha Casino in 1910. By then were also inaugurated the first hotels in the area and since then the city has devoted itself to welcome tourists from all over the world, offering them many things to see and do in Portimao.

Arriving in Portimão

Faro airport is your best choice if you are coming by plane. There you may hire a car and about an hour ride along Via do Infante (A22) you will arrive in Portimao.

Via do Infante (A22) is also the road that will take you to Portimao if you are driving from Spain or from Lisbon after you leave the A2.

Where is Portimao?

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Praia da Rocha: 37.116663, -8.534660
Autodromo Internacional do Algarve: 37.231752, -8.629264
Pestana Alvor Praia hotel: 37.120581, -8.579723

Main image credits

Photo by Roo Reynolds

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