The Algarve has a strong strategic important for Portugal which means that is full of history including the Moorish occupation and the Age of Discoveries where Portugal conquered the new world.
This led to the construction over several centuries of castles, fortresses and palaces, many of which still stand today and that you should certainly aim to include on any visit to the Algarve. Here we explore some of our favourites.
Paderne Castle: This is one of the seven castles shown on the crimson banner around the white shield and corners of the National Flag.
It is of Arab origin and was conquered by D. Paio Peres Correia. This is an excellent example of Muslim architecture in the Iberian Peninsula and was strongly damaged during the 1755 earthquake.
Albufeira has a medieval fair that you will not want to miss.
Over the course of five days, the Village of Paderne goes back in time and revives the 14th century, with a lot of commerce, religion, shows and a historic procession that portrays the ceremony of D. Dinis giving the Donation Letter of Paderne Castle to the Order from Avis on the first day of the New Year.
Teas, delicacies, wines and other delicacies are also one of the main attractions of this festival, which usually takes place in the last month of each year.
Alcoutim Castle: This castle was built as a way to defend the border and has an extensive wall. This castle is built on a hill over the riverbank of the river Sao Marcos that has affluence to river Guadiana. From the castle, you can see the Spanish castle, Castelo de Sanlúcar de Guadiana.
Nowadays it is home to the Archaeological Museum of Alcoutim.
Aljezur Castle: Built on the top of the hill in the tenth century, this Arab military castle was a defence point until the 18th century. It has an extensive wall, two towers and an impressive view. It is one of the castles featured on Portugal’s coat of arms.
Castro Marim Castle: Built by D. Afonso III in the 13th century, the walls of Castro Marim’s castle have a semicircular shape and includes the Church of Nossa Senhora dos Mártires and the ruins of the castle. This fortress was raised on the right bank of the river Guadiana. It was a part of a network of defensive structures. In the 15th century, D. Joao IV had the fortress restored and also built the São João de Castro Marim Fortress.
Nowadays it is home to a museological nucleus.
Castro Marim has a medieval fair in August.
The fair lasts for 5 days with recreations of the time, the ideals of chivalry and tournaments, street entertainment, the exhibition of arts and crafts, trade, theater and musical shows and banquets.
The fair also has a wide variety of delicacies and drinks. The objective of the organization is to take the visitor through a historic moment where he feels that he has really traveled in time.
Estoi Palace: This architecturally rich palace is singular in its rococo style and unique to the region.
This palace is constituted by the main building, the chapel and the gardens. In its main building, is opulent decoration, characteristic to its time, stands out, with detailed work on the stucco and painted ceilings. It has a grand ballroom in the centre of the house. In the chapel, you can find a D. Luis XV style decor, dedicated to the Holy Family, and has an 18th-century painting at the main altarpiece and two 17th century paintings by Bento Coelho da Silveira. The gardens of the palace are divided over three planes making use of stairways in its decoration and architecture. The lower terrace has a tile pavilion by Pereira Junior of the end of the 19th century and the upper terrace has a stained glass pavilion. There are also busts throughout the walls of the gardens of several people.
Faro Episcopal Palace: This beautiful palace was built in the 16th and 17th centuries and is close to the seminary and Se Church. The building was recovered and augmented after the 1755 earthquake and its four waters rooftops and portal are characteristic to it. Its interior is decorated with 18th-century tiles and it has an indoor library.
This palace is the headquarters of the Episcopate that used to be housed in Silves.
Faro Walls: The area of Vila Adentro in Faro dates back to the Roman period, two thousand years ago. Two towers were built at the entrance that is known today as Arco do Repouso (it is said that D. Afonso III rested there after conquering the town to the moors in 1249), the other entrance to the village is of Arab origin and has a door. Although it has survived attacks and the earthquake, the wall still exists and has been recovered over the years.
For a unique way to see to visit it’s also possible to take a boat trip to the walls.
Joao do Arade Fortress: This beautiful Fortress worked together with Santa Catarina Fortress in defending Rio Arade and its population. Its origin dates back to the 17th century and was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake. It functioned until the end of the 19th century when it was sold to poet Coelho Carvalho who transformed it into a private residence.
Lagos Walls: due to the need to protect the city, these walls were remodelled and augmented during the 16th century by D. Manuel and D. Filipe I. Known as Walls and clods of Lagos, this wall has 9 clods and seven access doors.
Ponta da Bandeira Fortress: Built at the entrance of the Serafin riverbank in the 17th century, this military fortress was a part of a network of maritime protection of the military headquarters in the Algarve. It was strongly modified during the Estado Novo between the decades of 50-60. It has inside it a chapel dedicated to Saint Barbara, with 17th-century tile covered walls and is classified as Property of Public Interest.
If you don’t have a car then bus tours to Lagos and other areas are available.
Loule Castle: This military castle was built in the 13th century after D. Paio Peres Coreeira conquered it from the moors. Originally it was a 5 acre piece of land where there were two main nuclei: the alcove- the military space and the medina- administrative and civilian spaces.
Nowadays it is home to the Municipal Museum and the Municipal Documentation Centre.
Santa Catarina Fortress: Built during the reign of D. Filipe III, this fortress sat to the Eastern side of Praia da Rocha protected the bank area of the river Arade and its population, in joint efforts with São João do Arade Fortress, on the other side of the river.
It was strongly damaged by the 1755 earthquake and was once home to Maritime Police and the Fiscal Guard.
Silves Castle: This castle is sat at the top of the hill and although its origin is roman, it was the Arabs that raised it in the 8th and 13th centuries and it is the best example of Arab military architecture in Portugal. Visitors can walk the watch route, passing the main entrance that has two defensive towers, three clods and seven squares.
Silves castle is one of the largest and most well preserved castles in the Algarve and is therefore well worth a visit. You can also find many nice restaurants and bars in the surrounding town so it’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon.
If you have a car you can find several large car parks in the town which have plenty of spaces although as you’d expect parking can be more challenging during the festival.
Silves has a famous medieval fair.
The Silves Medieval Fair always offers new scenarios, recreations of Viking rituals and technological equipment to support visitors.
The fair takes place in August within the walls of the Castle of Silves and is one of the most famous events in this city.
This fair recalls the relationship of the old Xilb with the Vikings, reporting facts that go back to the year 844, when from Silves an ambassador Al-Gahzali went on diplomatic mission, who arrived in the Majus (Vikings) by boat.
The fair has a lot of typical Algarve cuisine and a lot of handicrafts.
Tavira Walls and Castle: These walls of Phoenician origin were rebuilt during the Arab period in the 11th and 12th centuries and were greatly improved during the reigns of D. Afonso III and D. Dinis. Their position over river Gilao led the population to develop this important seaport. There are still some paths that can be visited, including the main nucleus of the castle.
Organised tours to Tavira are available or you can simply stroll and set your own pace if you prefer.
Vila do Bispo
Cabo de S. Vicente Fortress: Raised during the reign of D. Manuel I of Portugal, when D. Fernando chose a fortress and a lighthouse bridge to defend the region. The initial structure was struck down by Francis Drake and rebuilt after 1632 under the reign of D. Filipe II of Portugal, which was then devastated by the 1755 earthquake. It was rebuilt again by D. Maria II in 1793. It is said that there was a convent here that took in Sao Vicente’s remains. The lighthouse was built in 1904 and is still in operation.
Sagres Fortress: Located on a predominant location at Ponta de Sagres, it was built by D. Henrique. Inside it is the Nossa Senhora da Graça Church, built on the exact same spot where once before was the de Santa Maria Church that Sir Francis Drake destroyed in 1587. This fortress has an impressive wind rose and sun clock that is said to date back to the Infante. For an interesting way to explore the area Segway tours in Sagres are also available. You can also find a bus tour that takes in Sagres, Silves and Monchique which is a great way to explore a wider area.
Fortaleza de Santo Antonio de Beliche: This fortress originated as a way to protect the local fishermen from pirates, dated back to the 16th century. It has a polygonal plan and Santa Catarina’s dome chapel inside it. Now recovered, this fortress was greatly damaged by Sir Francis Drake in 1587 and by the 1755 earthquake.
Vila Real de Santo António
Fortaleza de Cacela Velha: the historical area of Cacela Velha comprises a 16th-century fortress that was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake and a medieval church. The last visible reconstruction of the fortress dates back to the 18th century and Cacela Velha is distinguished as Property of Public Interest.
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