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Posted by portugalpress on April 26, 2018
Fish has been arriving since 1895
Construction materials from the past
Traditional barn houses
1,000-year-old olive tree near sports pavilion
Is this the oldest house in Lagoa?
Saints believed to protect homes

The past is all around us and despite living in Lagoa for the last 19 years, I did not know much about its history, so I went for a walk through the narrow streets and talked to some local residents.

Originally part of Silves, Lagoa provided to the prosperous capital city its almonds, figs, carobs and salt. With 4,500 inhabitants, Lagoa was given the status of a village by king D. José I in January 1773, so in 2018 it is celebrating its 245th anniversary and is now a city!

‘Lagoa’ means lake and the town was believed to have originally been built around one. The lands were drained for the development of its agricultural and fishing industries, which although still important to the community today, have now been surpassed by tourism as the main economic activity.

I started at the sports centre and stopped to look at the beautiful olive tree which was rescued when the motorway was built. A tree that is seen by residents every day, but how many of them realise that it is almost 1,000 years old?

All through town there are features on buildings that give clues to the past. Sadly, these are being lost as new properties are built. There are many abandoned houses, some of them mansions which would have once housed the town’s wealthiest families but are now home to big colonies of stray cats that are fed by the locals. One house has the words Pessanha 1735 carved over the stone door frame. Is this the oldest house that survived the 1755 earthquake after much of the village was destroyed?

Most of the population were agricultural workers or landowners and so many of the properties appear to have been storehouses. They have barn doors and perhaps families lived in the top floors. Iron rings attached to the wall, near the doors, were used to tie up the horses and donkeys whilst the goods were unloaded from the carts, hoisted up by the large hooks protruding above the top windows.

Most intriguing to me was a property near the market place with a very high front door and small prison-like windows. Clearly, it was a storehouse and despite my asking several people about it, nobody could tell me what it was for. I can only presume the high door was to make deliveries from the carts easier? I would love to know …

The Algarve is known for its Moors-influenced one storey white houses, with one door, two small windows and some with brightly-painted borders. Several of the front doors are very low – is this because the Portuguese are the shortest in Europe?

Did you know that in 1900 the average height for a Portuguese man was 1.65 metres as compared to the Dutch 1.73 metres? Although all European men have been growing, with the average height increasing by 11 centimetres in the last 110 years, the Portuguese continue to be the smallest and Algarveans are also shorter than their Lisbon peers!

One ruined house allowed me to see exactly what materials were used in the past for construction. Houses were built with very thick walls using straw, stones, wood and bamboo. ‘Taipa’ soil or clay and vegetation filled the spaces between the wooden structures. Canes and tree trunks made up the ceilings and clay tiles were used on the roof. Houses were painted with ‘cal’, quick lime rocks which are added to water to make a white ‘paint’ that is still used today and can be bought in drugstores.

Many of the houses in Lagoa retain their original stone window and door frames and it is interesting to see the different styles and influences.

I saw lots of saints painted on ceramic tiles above doors. The use of the image of saints on Portuguese houses began around 1750 and, after the 1755 earthquake, their use increased, especially with the image of saints believed to protect against earthquakes and fires.

Most amazing are the painted tiles in Lagoa’s three oratories, depicting part of Christ’s journey to the cross. There may once have been all 14 steps of the Passion of Christ, but the rest are believed to have been destroyed by the earthquake or to make way for new buildings. All that is known about them is that they pre-date the 19th century and they are worth seeing for the beautiful artwork.

Walking up Lagoa’s brightly painted red and white main road (no comment!), the buildings remain almost the same as in the early 1900s and I visited the municipal market, one of the oldest in the Algarve, built in 1895. Back in the day, the bell above the door was rung to announce to the town that fresh fish had arrived. It was and is a hive of traditional activity where locals sell their farm produce and fresh fish and a place where the older generation meet for a daily chat.
Further up the square, there is the 16th century small chapel Igreja da Misericórdia de Lagoa, with its gilded wood altar, but this is a chapel of rest where the recently deceased are laid out for family and friends to go and pay their respects, so be warned if you decide to take a look inside!

Walking on up the hill past a few more derelict mansions, with their beautiful ironwork balconies and past the Nossa Senhora da Luz church from the mid-16th century, I re-visited the cemetery to see the old stone mausoleums from Lagoa’s affluent families. I find them fascinating (but eerie) with their carvings depicting the deceased’s life. Look out for the easily missed oldest gravestone (1829) set in the cobblestones belonging to a Knight of the Order of Christ.

The library building is on the site of Lagoa’s original cemetery and was meant to be a theatre. However, the population did not like this idea and so it has been used as a kennel, warehouse, garage and gym before becoming the library in 1997. The municipal archive building next door used to be the town’s water deposit. Both places have regular exhibitions of local interest and are great to do local research.

I enjoyed my walk and learnt a lot. In the last 15 years, Lagoa’s economic development has surpassed that of other Algarvean councils and we are lucky to have such good facilities in terms of healthcare, sports, education, leisure and, of course, Lagoa’s wonderful beaches and gastronomy. However, I hope Lagoa retains its old charm and traditions, that buildings get restored and future generations will be able to take a walk through town to see a glimpse of the past.

So now you know!

By Isobel Costa
|| features@algarveresident.com

Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

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