Historical Data on the Borough of Carvoeiro

By: Dr. José Inácio Marques, translated by Mr. John Russell - copy from Tribuna do Algarve 31/7/96 with kind permission from Sr. Arthur Ligne

The Borough of Carvoeiro was established by the assembly of the Republic in accordance with law N. 112/85 of 4th October that year, after having been detached from the Borough of Lagoa.

The following excerpt from the proposed law on the matter (journal of the Assembly of the Republic dated 31st March 1984) outlines the justification for the change:

Shield of Carvoeiro

"Its potentialities as a privileged tourist area transformed the small village which depended upon fishing and farming into a large center of development. Hotels, tourist resorts, apartment blocks and villas have all combined to constitute an industry which has created several hundred jobs in Carvoeiro".

In fact, during the past 25 years the former fishing village of Carvoeiro has changed into one of the most important cosmopolitan tourist areas in the Algarve and the whole country.

From 1985 onwards, the Borough of Carvoeiro therefore became one of the five boroughs within the Lagoa Municipality, part of the Faro District, and it borders on the Estômbar and Lagoa boroughs to the west, north and east, with the Atlantic Ocean to the south. The borough area is 12.8 square kilometers, which is 13.7 % of the Lagoa municipal territory. Forty percent of the municipal coastline is in the borough, and its excellent cliffside beaches with scenic landscapes triggered the tourist influx, especially from the U.K., at the beginning, during the sixties. After that , visitors of other nationalities such as Germans discovered the attractions of the area.

However, in centuries gone by the Carvoeiro coast was coveted by other civilisations, especially in the view of its connections with the sea -fishing and coastal defense. The fact that archaeological relics have been found of the shore at Praia do Carvoeiro, such as a lead Roman anchor stock and a 13th century iron anchor, prove this point.


Largo do Praia, 1956

Largo do Praia 1956

Based on the 1991 census, there were 4,049 inhabitants in the Carvoeiro borough, plus an estimated two thousand foreign residents. The largest percentage of the inhabitants (1,833) lived in the village of Carvoeiro, with the remainder in Alfanzina, Vale de Centeanes, Sesmarias, Boavista, Mato Serrão, Algar Seco, Vale Covo, Vale Currais, and parts of Poço Partido, Salicos, Benagil and Vale d'El-Rei. In 1960,

The population of the village of Carvoeiro totaled 1,031 and therefore the increase over the period of thirty years was approximately 60%. In 1985, when the borough was established, the number of voters was 1,453 and in 1993 the total had reached 1,534.

It can easily be seen that there is a large discrepancy between the numbers of inhabitants and voters, but this is due to the high number of foreign residents who live in the Borough of Carvoeiro.

These foreigners of course are extremely important for the local economy, and a considerable percentage of tourist industry and related businesses are owned by foreign companies, and there are the mainstay of the socio-economic structure of the area.

The population density is also relatively high at 316 inhabitants per square kilometer, and of course one must not forget that at the peak tourist season, especially in July and August, the population is at  least three times as much, based on the number of beds available at hotels, tourist complexes and private houses. As a matter of fact, the Borough of Carvoeiro represents about 60% of the available tourist capacity in the Lagoa Municipality.

The main population and urban expansion took place, however, towards the end of the sixties and early seventies when several building projects for the tourist trade were started and many others planned. Examples of these are the Sesmarias and Solférias tourist complexes, and the Dom Sancho hotel, the Residencial Togi and the start to the Almansor Hotel. After that time there was a slack period, but expansion picked up again at the end of the seventies and early eighties as well as the late eighties and early nineties, but at present it is in the midst of a depression (31-7-1996 webmaster).

In Carvoeiro today (31-7-1996 webmaster) there are more than ten good quality tourist developments, three high class hotels, and more than a hundred restaurants or similar establishments, which inevitably benefits the local socio-economic way of life. There are some thirty tennis courts and a (3 webmaster) golf course in the borough, as well as an appreciable number of large swimming-pools for tourist leisure use. Banks, travel agencies and other service firms have also been set up in Carvoeiro to meet the requirements. The building industry has obviously accompanied all this expansion of tourism.

Historically, however, the Carvoeiro area has mainly had close connections with the sea - there are documents and maps to confirm this, as well as the inhabitants' role in defending the coast - and with the land, especially with regard to unirrigated crops, e.g. almond, fig, olive trees, grape vines, as well as vegetables such as broad beans and peas in the spring. In view of the shortage of water, except in places supplied by the irrigation channel from Poço Partido/Praia do Carvoeiro to some places in the Bemparece/Canada area, there is no farming of irrigated crops. There are some vegetable gardens and smallholdings which produce mainly citrus fruits, but this type of farming is however somewhat limited.

Cabo (Cape) Carvoeiro, close to Alfanzina, is shown on the oldest available maps of Portugal. For example there is a map which dates back to about 1621, compiled by Fernando Álvares Seco, based on an initial Rome edition dated 1561, which is considered to be the oldest printed map of Portugal. It is based on one of the first large scale surveys made of the whole country, and it is believed that geometrical surveying methods were adopted for the purpose.

<>At Alfanzina, or more precisely, Areias de Alfanzina, there is a Neolithic/Chalcolithic archaeological site as shown the Archaeological Map of Portugal (issued by IPPAR), which was some kind of settlement, where pottery shards have been found close to the surface of the soil. The maps illustrated in an archaeological study by Mário Varela Gomes, Pinho Monteiro and Eduardo Cunha Serrão called "The Caramujeira Prehistoric site - 1975/76 Research" (Minutes of the 3rd Archaeological Expeditions, 1977) show the Areias da Alfanzina site precisely to the north of Cabo Carvoeiro and the Alfanzina lighthouse, relatively close to the valley at the top of which Caramujeira is located. The publication by Estácio da Veiga "Antiguidades Monumentais do Algarve" (Ancient Algarve Monuments" mentions a ruined bronze age burial ground with urns, in an area within the Lagoa borough limits close to Bemparece, and just north of Carvoeiro borough territory. It may be of considerable historical interest to discover the explanation for the place names "Cabeço das Pias" (Hilltop of the Fonts) and "Masmorra" (Dungeon). At the latter place there is a cave dug into the rock circumscribed by quadrilateral stone foundations on a small plateau overlooking the valley from the south which widens out towards Bemparece. From Masmorra one can plainly see Cabeço das Pias up on another hill. Chapter seven of the first volume of the above publication by Estácio da Veiga, deals with this very subject, by mentioning " Underground dwellings or storage caves commonly described as granaries, olive-bins, garners (or "matmoras")", and alluding to caves dug in the rock such as those which can be found precisely at Masmorra in the Borough of Carvoeiro. The origin of the name is therefore easily explained.

According to some authors, such as Alberto Iria in " O Algarve e os Decobrimentos" ( Algarve and the Discoveries) written in 1956 where the crusade to conquer the Algarve (the first time) from the Moors, the place Caboiere is mentioned in reference to a Moorish fortification that was overrun, and this appears to be the origin of the name of Carvoeiro. This clearly shows how old it is (although the fortification may not necessarily have been where the village is now located) since it had existed during Moorish times or even before. This theory has been put forward by several other writers.

Nevertheless, although Baptista Lopes stated in his 1841 book "Corographia do Algarve" (Chorography of the Algarve) that Carboiere would be the former name for Cabo Carvoeiro, in the notes he mentions the possibility that the place, which is referred to in "Crónica da Conquista do Algarve", could be "rather the place called Carvoeiro in the Borough of São Bartolomeu" in Messines. The whole question is problematical and complex so it remains in doubt. Frequently, Cabo Carvoeiro is mentioned in historical records and chronicles when reference is made to Porches. After all, a few years after Porches was definitively reconquered from the Moors - Porches Velho, that is, the Crastos Area - had its "Castrum" (castle) donated to a chancellor of King Afonso III, called Estevão Anes in February, 1250. Later, on 20th August, 1286, King Dinis granted the royal charter to the settlers in Porches. One can glean from this charter that the territory which is now the Borough of Carvoeiro was part of that new, but short-lived mediaeval district. In fact, less than a century later in 1370, King Fernando of Portugal bestowed the Porches jurisdiction to the city of Silves, and eliminated the former by the same decree. The Carvoeiro area, including the Cape, farming lands, beaches and it inhabitants, was therefore incorporated into the Silves municipality limits.

When the Lagoa Municipality district was established on 16th January, 1773, instead of being part of the Silves territory, in accordance with the Royal Warrant signed by King José I as a consequence of Pombal's reformation policies, the Carvoeiro area was placed under the administrative control of Lagoa. There are several historical references to places within the Carvoeiro area. The 15th century records of the administrator of the Royal domains in Silves mention that the registrar  went in 1447 to the "Alfanzina thickets at the limits of the Alagoa territory to take possession of land and a hovel that had previously been a house on that land which is now covered with wild vegetation". Friar João de São José also states in "Chorography of the kingdom of the Algarve" (1577) - "Apart from those mentionned above there are many other places in the Algarve such as (.....), Carapateira, Algoz, Carvoeiro (.....)".

In "História do Reino do Algarve" (History of the kingdom of the Algarve) from about the year 1600, Henrique Fernandes Sarrão wrote: "A league to the south of this place of Estombar, is the fishing village of Carvoeiro on the coast; and half a league farther over, in the direction of the sunrise, there is a watch-tower which is called the Alfanzina tower" We believe this to be one of the best geographical descriptions of Carvoeiro in olden times.

Fishing and the defense of the coast were intimately connected. Besides, for fishing to be carried in safety from the Moorish attacks, especially during the summertime, protection was naturally required, and this was provided by means of watch-towers and other look-out posts, bulwarks and fortresses. The Algarve coast was indeed ravished by several covetous groups of attackers. For example in a letter from the governor of the Algarve on 27th July, 1638, addressed to the King describing the situation of the area, one can read the report of some "vessels which appear to be Turkish" off the shore opposite "the fortress of Our Lady".

Previously , in August, 1554, according to the description by Babtista Lopes in his " Corographia do Algarve", there had been "a fierce naval battle (....) between the Algarve coast guard fleet (....) and that of the well-known Turkish corsair, Xaramet-Arraes", due "East of Cabo Carvoeiro" that is, not far from Alfanzina.

Returning to the subject of fishing, we find that Henrique Sarrão had certified that about the year 1600 there was a fishing fleet in Carvoeiro. During the 17th and 18th centuries this activity continued, and there is a report by Romero de Magalhães on the Algarve economy over that period. In 1884 fishing concession areas were granted in the name of Joaquim de Almeida Negrão - cf. "A Pesca do Atum no Algarve" (Tuna fishing in the Algarve) by Luis F. Santos, 1989. In his 1911 book "Memória Monographica - Villa Nova de Portimão", Father José Gonçalves Vieira comments that "until the last few years" there were Carvoeiro based boats with fishing gear that fished for sardines, in a fleet owned by João Júdice Fialho. The same author mentioned that in 1911 there was still a fleet belonging to the same owner that fished for tuna.

Incidentally, Teixeira Gomes, describes in his " Agosto Azul" (Blue August) the harpooning of tuna ("Uma Copejada de Atum) at the beginning of the 2oth century with stunning liveliness and enthusiasm. This expedition to which he had been invited took place precisely off the coast from Praia do Carvoeiro. Even a few decades ago one was still able to see on the beach the iron supports of the fishing nets. Also, not many years ago there was a fish canning factory still in operation. Its chimney is standing there even now. It was with a certain sadness that we recently saw an advertisement in the 1944 edition of Mário Lyster Franco's "Algarve - Guia Turistico" for the "Cabo Carvoeiro" canning factory owned by António  Campos Amaral, mentioning in French: "Fabrications spéciale en Sardines, Filets de Maquereaux, Chinchards".

With regard to the coastal defenses, one can read in the book "Castelos e Fortificações Maritimos do Conselho de Lagoa"(Maritime Castles and Fortifications in the Lagoa Municipality), written by Carlos Pereira Callixto, that "At Praia do Carvoeiro, on the coast of the Lagoa municipality area, construction of the fortress of Our Lady was started in 1670 on top of the rocky cliff at the eastern end of the small sandy bay, and to confirm its age there is only a memorial stone which was installed some 125 years later" This memorial stone is located exactly above the doorway of the fortress.

The fortress of of Our Lady of the Incarnation has been subjected to several vicissitudes, the worst being the earthquake of 1st November 1755 when it was seriously damaged, especially the battlements, the interior and the chapel. The restoration took an extremely long time, and even a century later it was still in progress.Currently only part of the eastern battlement is from the original structure, as well as the portico. In 1870 a coast guard barracks was established in the fortress. also the intra-mural Chapel of Our Lady of the Incarnation was rebuilt and extended, and has been further modified recently. On part of the land where the northern battlements were located there is now a car park and a terrace with views over the sea, as well as a children's playground on the western side.

Carvoeiro which had strong maritime connections in yester-years, is now tied to tourism, with the ever present scenery of the sea.