Carvoeiro, a midsummer day's dream

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

On one of those late afternoons when we feel that spring is already arriving and we dream of summer, I found myself having a pleasant walk through the Carvoeiro streets. It was one of those aimless trips with no set schedule, where turning each corner is a new experience. I followed the row of houses that line the street leading to the main village square. There the tourist office immediately attracts one's attention and after collecting a pamphlet and peering at the map I started climbing the steep hill towards the Chapel of Our Lady of the Incarnation.


Old fortification

There the panorama spreads out as if one were on a flight over the sea and the small cozy beach, an area of golden sand shaped like a shell, still practically deserted in the lukewarm March sun. During the summer, on the other hand, bodies almost bump against each other as bathers search for a spot to relax and tan themselves. The air is full of chatter in a variety off different languages from a widened Europe, creating the background sounds of the picturesque scene.

On this day, the strong smell of the sea rises up over the cliff, and my glaze casts over the blue vastness but always returns to become fixed on the attractive group of white cottages that cling to the hill over the opposite side of the beach. Although most of the small cottages have been modified, they still remind one of the times when the daily routine of Carvoeiro's inhabitants was determined by the departure and arrival of the fishing boats. In those days the Carvoeiro beach was a place for hard work and not a cosmopolitan meeting and leisure place.

The Borough of Carvoeiro was established by the Government under Law No. 112/85 of 4th October, 1985, and is contiguous to the Borough of Estômbar and Lagoa (from which it was detached). Carvoeiro has about 40% of the Lagoa District coastal area and includes the localities of Alfanzina, Vale de Centeanes, Sesmarias, Poço Partido, Boavista, Mato Serrão, Salicos, Benagil, Algar Seco, Vale Covo, Vale d'El-Rei and Vale Currais.

In some cases, these place names help us to establish how the respective areas were occupied. For example, Sesmarias, which means allotments of uncultured land (land granted to settlers with the obligation to cultivate it within a defined period), or Vale d'El-Rei, i.e. King's Valley (land reserved by the King after the Christians reconquered the Algarve, as mentionned in the Porches royal charter, and also known as crown land or a royal domain), which are part of local history going back to mediaeval times. The Moorish occupation left traces in the place names of Alfanzina (Al-fanzina), Benagil (Ben-[a]gil, and Algar Seco (algar meaning grotto).

From vestiges found at archaeological sites throughout the borough, it is possible to demonstrate that there has been continuous occupation by people for many centuries. Examples of these sites are the Jazida (cemetery) of Lageal (Epipaleolithic), the Mato Serrão settlements (Epipaleolithic and Neolithic periods), Salicos settlements (Paleolithic and Neolithic periods); or the Middle Age's remains, Father Vicente's Alcaria (implement shed) of the 12th-13th Centuries, and the Carvoeiro settlement, next to the present village, which is probably Moorish in origin, with its walled area, the ancient Castle of Carboiere, mentioned in the Anonymous Chronicle of the Frankish Crusade, which participated in the first occupation of the Chenchir lands by the army of King Sancho I (in 1198), assisted by an armada of crusades heading for the Holy Land, and which must have been of high strategic importance.

After having been re-conquered by the Christians, the Carvoeiro borough territory was integrated into the Porches District. In 1370, during the reign of King Fernando, it was administered by the Silves District, and much later, in 1773, it was transferred to Lagoa control. The majority of the Carvoeiro population was involved in fishing and associated activities throughout the centuries leading up to the tourist boom which started in the sixties. Various sources mention the existence of sardine and tuna fishing fleets based in the village and which stayed until the first decade of the 20th century. Carvoeiro also took part in the expansion of the canned fish industry which provided work for many years until the fifties when the Cabo Carvoeiro canning plant owned by António Campos Amaral closed.There are few accounts of written about those days that either thrill us or bring back nostalgic memories. There was one called "Agosto Azul" written by Manuel Teixeira Gomes where he describes the famous incident of the harpooning of a tuna fish:

"...within a few seconds he appeared, close to the other end of the net, mounted on an enormous tuna which began swimming at a dizzy speed in order to free itself from the strange load, jumping over other fish which were blocking its passage, or diving suddenly only to reappear a few meters further away, with the fisherman on its back holding on to the boat side with his left hand and waving the other one in the air with shouts of triumph."

Let us continue our climb up to the Chapel of Our lady of the Incarnation, and what remains of the fortress which was started there in 1670 under orders from the Count of Val de Reis, Nuno de Mendonça, Governor and General-in-Chief of the kingdom of the Algarve, and in the name of the Regent, Don Pedro. The fortress was completed in 1675, during the Governorship of the Count of Pontevel, Nuno da Cunha de Ataide, as is engraved on the memorial stone over the entrance to the fortified area, and which was eventually decommissioned in 1861.

In the 17th century, the village of Carvoeiro experienced the lack of security which was the norm along the whole Algarve coast due to frequent attacks by daring Moroccan corsairs who disembarked on the beaches and made incursions inland, taking people and pillaged goods back to Morocco. This constant state of alert which dated back to the Middle Ages, led to the construction of watchtowers all along the coast and the square Alfanzina tower dates from the 16th century, but little more than its foundation now remains. In 1587, the attacks launched by the English privateer Sir Francis Drake, who regularly patrolled the Algarve coast with the support of vessels equipped with cannons, were devastating, and ruined many fortified buildings and defensive walls. During the following centuries attacks by the English, French and Dutch continued, taking advantage of Portugal's integration into Spain (until 1640) and the various conflicts against them in their foreign European policies.

There are some vestiges on the seabed of these sea battles which took place, providing real treasures for historians and archaeologists. During the summer of 1554 a galley was sunk in the open sea near Alfanzina during a hotly contested battle between the "Turkish" corsair, Xaramet Arraes, the commander of eight galleys and the Algarve Squadron headed by Dom Pedro Cunha, consisting of four galleys, three brigantines and two caravels. After considerable combat, Xaramet was defeated, imprisoned and sent to Lisbon where he stay until 1561 and then exchanged for another so-called Turk converted to Christianity. Xaramet's patronymic name Arraes, from the Arabic "ar-raiç", which means a ship's captain, and is common in Portugal (to describe the  master or captain of a launch), leads one to believe that he might have been a Christian converted to Islamism. The wreck of an English vessel with cargo heading for Faro and which sank in 1719 has also been located close to Cabo (Cape) Carvoeiro. It had been attacked by corsairs from Salé in Morocco.

We take another emotional look at the vast, beautiful emerald green waters which spread out down below us. Enraptured little by little by these memories, dreaming of courage and daring, and paying attention to the vessels vanishing in the distance in the approaching dusk, I almost feel history repeating itself........but for an abrupt shout in the language of Her Royal British Majesty asking for directions to the Hotel Almansor. My goodness what a fright! By Allah, if it were Xaramet Arraes the Turk, I would already have been beheaded or made a candidate for an apprentice as a belly dancer!

The name of Almansor, however, who was an Arab chief who led the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711, taking advantage of disagreement between the Goths, would frighten me more if the mere mention of this name had the magical power of making him reappear.....

I hurried down the hill now in darkness, soothed by the words of the poet who wrote in Carvoeiro:

This is Algarve's Sea, crystal-clear
That jests with you.... it busies itself
With us all by chatting alone

Every bold mariner from the past
Who became superior after an epic voyage
Because of the Portuguese who chartered his route..

Father António de Oliveira, from the poem
"Uma vez mais...." ( "Once again....")