When traveling to Portugal, one area that should not be passed by is the Algarve. This area lies in the southern part of Portugal, and is the most popular tourist and vacation site in the country. The most southwestern point of the Algarve is also the most southwestern point of all of Europe. The area is also known as the sunniest spot in Europe. There are many small cities and villages in this area, each of which has its own unique attributes.
One of these is the city of Tavira, whose origins date back to approximately 2,000 BC. Because of its strong fishing industry, Tavira was very important to the Moors when they occupied it, as well as to the Romans. Even today, an area near the city is being excavated and shows evidence of a Roman settlement. A Roman bridge also connects two sections of the town across the River Gilao.
In the earthquake of 1755, most of the buildings in Tavira were destroyed. Today, however, many of the buildings have been rebuilt, some partially and some completely. There are many examples of medieval houses with their Gothic touches to the windows and doorways. From the ruins of a Moorish castle, one can view the entire town, with its many church spires, balconies, and even where the river meets the sea.
Although Tavira does not encompass a large area, one can find many interesting as well as unique sites. One of the most notable of these is the seven arch bridge that spans the river Gilao, said to be Roman in origin. Due to severe floods that damaged the bridge in 1989, today the bridge is open only to those on foot.
Tavira is also famous for its great number of churches-there are more than 30 churches in the town. Although they are all beautiful, there are two that are worth a special visit. The first of these is the ‘Igreja da Santa Maria”, which has been built on the site of an ancient Mosque. The tomb of the commander who overthrew the Moors in the city in 1245 lies in this church. The other church that travelers often wish to visit is the Igreja do Misericordia, which is dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It was constructed in the middle of the 16th century, and contains traditional tile work from the 18th century as well as a Renaissance portal, something not often seen in this area due to damages from the 1755 earthquake.
One of the most popular sites in Tavira is “The Castle”. Actually, these are the remains of a Moorish castle. One can still visit the battlements and when looking down from the castle to the town, can see the remains of the walls and towers of the medieval town.
To have a truly unique experience, one has only to travel a bit west of Tavira to the “Octopus Capital” of the Algarve, a small town called Santa Luzia. The anglers here, instead of fishing for tuna as they have in the past, now “fish” for octopus, which is considered a delicacy in the area. The fishermen use clay pots to capture the octopus. They lower the pots into the shallow waters off the coast and allow them to rest on the sea floor. Looking for a safe place to hide from predators, the octopus takes up residence in a pot, which is then retrieved by the fisherman.
No visit to Southern Portugal is complete without visiting the beaches. Tavira is no exception. The island “Ilha da Tavira” lies off the coast, between the Atlantic Ocean and Tavira. One needs to use a ferry to gain access to the island that is home to two beaches. The sand is white, and the water is warm-what more does one need to relax? In addition to the beaches on the island, there are several restaurants and even a campsite for those who might be interested in spending the night.
In addition to the numerous sites to visit when in Tavira, several other events take place throughout the year. Some of these include The Town Holiday, a Handicraft Festival, a Festival called “Gastronomy of the Sea”, and the Carnival, usually held in February. In addition, on the weekends there are many flea markets as well as food markets where one can shop. For those who enjoy music, there are several band festivals and orchestra performances during the year. Musical performances are often held on Saturdays in many of the churches in the town. In addition to all these activities, there are many holidays dedicated to the various saints whom the people of the town revere.
As one can see, Tavira is a city that has so many wonderful attributes there is not enough room to list all of them. However, all one needs to remember is the fact that Tavira has great weather, beautiful beaches, interesting ancient ruins, and enough sites and activities to keep a visitor busy. More importantly, however, a visit to this town gives a visitor the opportunity to take a brief glimpse into the different aspects of the lives of those who call Tavira home.