Tavira from Antiquity to our days
City by grandeur of times gone by, Tavira is situated on the eastern side of the Algarve, halfway between Cape Santa Maria and the mouth of the Guadiana river. It is two kilometers from the sea and is located on the banks of the Gilão River estuary, under the sandbank that protects the Ria Formosa from Faro to Cacela. This location was a factor in its development and apogee, and then its lethargy and weakening. Tavira is essentially an estuary city and its history is naturally linked to the evolution of its port and the activities related to it.
From the Origins to the Roman Raft
The known data allow us to establish the continuity of human presence in the place, today, occupied by Tavira from the Muslim domain. It is known, however, that between the late 8th century BC and the 6th century BC, the Phoenicians - or populations with great affinities with them - colonized this place, building a thick wall on the hill today called Santa Maria, of which traces still remain.
With the arrival of the VI century B.C., the strong Phoenician influence gave rise to Turdetânia, which stretched from the Strait of Gibraltar to Cape St. Vincent. From this period there are still vestiges discovered near the current Praça da República that document the fishing and canning activity of the Turdetans, including a docking pier, a warehouse of amphorae with fish preparations and, imagine, the oldest tuna fishing net known to date.
The period of Roman domination left its marks, a few kilometers west of Tavira - between Santa Luzia and Luz de Tavira - in the ancient Balsa (about 30 BC), famous city referenced in ancient sources, whose rich archaeological remains are scattered in national museums.
The entire vast area designated by the Muslims as Al Garb al Andaluz (i.e. west of Andaluz) was occupied by them from the year 712. When they arrived, Tavira was either deserted or, at best, had lost the economic and mercantile vigor of other times. The first reports date from the 11th century and refer to the movement of its port. The Muslims gave the city a new lease of life, making it the capital of a Taifa Kingdom and, during the Almohad period, the capital of a district. During this period, the walls were rebuilt, and are in part preserved. The most famous Islamic vestige of the city is the unusual Vaso de Tavira, in ceramics, of popular nature, integrating human figures and molded animals, with naive profusion of details, making this find one of the most eloquent testimonies of life in Al Andaluz in the eleventh century.
From the Christian conquest to the Portuguese expansion period
Tavira is conquered from the Moors in 1242 by the Order of Santiago, led by its master D. Paio Peres Correia. It was on the hill of Santa Maria, surrounded by the castle walls, that the Christian conquerors consolidated their civil, military and religious presence. The first churches were established there, some reusing what remained of the old Arab mosques. In the 14th and 15th centuries the town's urban expression is accentuated, the first convent - of Franciscans - is founded, the walls are improved, and the maritime commerce with Flemish, English, Italians, French, Biscainhos and Galicians flourishes.
The Portuguese expansion in the 15th and 16th centuries makes Tavira the most prosperous urban center in the Algarve, benefiting from its strategic importance for the support, defense and maintenance of the conquered squares in North Africa. Consequently, the town was elevated to city status in 1520 by King Manuel I. Attesting to its wealth is the large number of military, civilian and religious buildings that appear around this time, highlighting the Renaissance works of the architect André Pilarte.
From the second half of the sixteenth century begins to be undeniable the economic and strategic decline of the city, aggravated by the abandonment of some possessions in North Africa, by Spanish rule and by the progressive silting of the river Gilão, contributing to the decrease of commercial movement of the port of Tavira. Later, the effects of a devastating plague (1645-1647) and the long campaign of the War of Restoration are felt, taking away from the city the importance it had acquired in the past. Despite the loss of importance, new buildings continued to appear in the city - such as the convents of the Paulistas and the Capuchins -, built in the austere "chão style", a style characterized by formal sobriety and decorative simplicity, values that would make their fortune in architecture until the advent of Baroque in the 18th century.
The Years of Stability
The years of stability of D. Pedro II and D. João V seemed to stop the stagnation of the city. The slowing down of the aggressiveness of the Corsican and the piracy, as well as a perceptible economic recovery, contribute to a long and sustained growth of the population between the end of the 17th century and the middle of the 18th century. The city records in this period the development of the activity of the Third Orders, brotherhoods or brotherhoods, favoring the proliferation and splendor of churches and chapels, ordered erected and decorated by the confreres. In this context, Tavira's architecture from the Baroque period is rich, especially due to the works of Diogo Tavares de Ataíde (1711-1765), regarded as the greatest architect of the Algarve Baroque - author, among others, the remodelling of the convent of Graça and the church and hospital of the Holy Spirit.
The earthquake and the 18th century booklet
The 1755 earthquake hits some of the oldest buildings in the city, such as the main church of Santa Maria, which will be rebuilt in the neoclassical spirit that characterizes the late 18th century. After the earthquake, the city begins to rely on the regular presence of the Governor and Captain General of the Algarve, providing equipment to support his policy. The Governor's palace in Alto de Santa Ana, a military hospital (1761) and the Quartel da Atalaia (1795) were built to house the city's regiment with dignity. As part of a national policy of economic recovery, the Marquis of Pombal founded in Tavira, in 1776, a tapestry factory, whose production, however, was precarious and ephemeral.
Tavira of the Eighteenth Century
The instability brought about by the French invasions, the liberal struggles and a serious cholera epidemic does not help the town overcome its obliteration during the first decades of the 19th century. The countryside tends to rule the local economy, after the significant reduction of fishing, due to the almost total disappearance of tuna from the areas where it usually appeared. Liberalism would introduce a new social conscience, leading to the construction of the Ribeira Market (1885) and the Public Garden (1889). However, considerable parts of the old city walls and old convents, such as that of São Francisco, disappeared.
Tavira in the 20th century
The beginning of the century sees the appearance of the railway line (1905), which will end up influencing the urban space with the breaking up of new arteries connecting to the city center. The republican regime invests in new public equipment, such as the jail, a slaughterhouse, a cemetery, and the installation of electric lighting. In the bordering areas, fish canning factories were installed. During the New State (1926-1974) new streets and public buildings appear, some following the official molds: Porta Nova and Station schools, the Palace of Justice, the Agrarian Post and the old building of the Barn of the National Federation of Wheat Growers, among others.