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Posted by portugalpress on March 09, 2017

My first article (in a series of three) described the perceptions of the Algarve by British travellers before the 20th century. This second article describes the views of Italian, Spanish and French visitors.

Count José Gorani (1740 – 1819) toured Europe in 1765-7. He entered Portugal at Castro Marim on October 25, 1765, from where he travelled by boat northwards up the Guadiana river. He was treated very hospitably by Portuguese he met on this journey, who brought him olives, “grapes so tasty that I have never eaten better”, pomegranates, pears, apples, oranges and chestnuts. Others brought home-made bread, wine, eggs, milk, cooked chicken and smoked and raw ham. “My hands were full and my pockets were overflowing and I did not know where to put all that the good villagers gave me. The countrypeople of Portugal, what good people! May heaven shower you with blessings!” Peter and I still receive local produce from our neighbours; in return for giving a lift into Santa Catarina comes a never-ending supply of lemons and clementines.

A famous Spanish visitor (and spy) was José Andrés Cornide de Folgueira y Saavedra (1734-1803) who was a member of various Spanish Royal Societies. He arrived in Portugal in 1794 in order to study its history. He found the Algarvians hard-working, good sailors and good businesspeople with many customs similar to those of the Andalusians. He recognised that the Algarve coast was exposed to invasion and that the tuna nets could easily be destroyed. He went on to criticise the Portuguese monarch for not helping the Algarvians to defend their livelihood despite having the the title of “Kingdom of the Algarves on this side of the water and the other”. (From the time of D. Afonso V, Portuguese kings had styled themselves King of the Algarves, on this side of the water, and the other side, in Africa. This style reflected their desire to consider Morocco as another part of their kingdom.)

The French Gabriel de Saint Victor travelled to the Algarve in 1879 and he remarked on the bioco worn by some local women. The bioco came into use in 1649 in the reign of D João IV, according to some sources. (The bioco was a woman’s headdress. It was black, and its long funnel-shaped peak completely obscured the woman’s face.) We know that in 1892 the Civil Governor of the Algarve prohibited its use in the street and in churches, but it continued in use in Olhão well into the 20th century. Nowadays, the bioco may be seen in use by some female members of a rancho folclórico (e.g. the Rancho Etnográfico de Quelfes). Saint Victor also commented on the raids made by the Barbary Corsairs on the Algarve coast, and he pointed out that each Algarvian coastal town had a town wall. He described his stay in Faro: “We can find everything we want, according to the official data, starting with two or three hotels, among which the best .... is still to be built. There is water that can be heated, and so we have tea and also very hard bread that with good will, a lot of optimism and some good teeth can be confused with toasted bread.” He describes an attractive beach at Quarteira where “the huts of the fishermen built on the beach serve as a seaside resort”. He also described the countless numbers of inland carob and fig trees and that, whilst much of their produce was exported, the remainder was eaten by the men and women, their cows and their dogs, all of whom got fat.

Another French visitor, Léopold Alfred Germond de Lavigne, visited Cape St. Vincent in 1887, and described how mariners on boats passing on their way to and from Africa and the Mediterranean exchanged signals with the occupants of the lighthouse. In his description, he showed that each day between 40 and 50 vessels passed the Cape. Ernest Bergman in 1890 described Faro as an excellent port where oranges, sumac, olive oil, cork and nuts were exported and where coastal navigation and fishing were highly valued.

German visitors included the geologist F.G. Muller-Beeck who, in 1883, visited Vila Real de Santo António and Pomarão. Ungraciously, he described the Portuguese as ugly, unlike Spanish people who were not. I think he must have needed spectacles. Another German, Otto Riess, in 1887 commented that the houses, clothes and way of life of the Portuguese indicated that they were a lazy people and that “everywhere sloth and a smell in the vicinity of inhabited places that offends anyone from the north, a smell that is renewed every day”. Heinrich Link (1767-1851) was a notable natural historian of the Algarve. In 1798, he travelled to the Algarve via a desert dreary waste (the Alentejo) and, crossing the mountains from Santa Clara, descended on “the most charming spot we had ever seen among chestnut trees ... concealed amid gardens of oranges and lemons ... the charming town of Monchique”. He passed through Bensafrim, Budens and Raposeira on his way to the Capuchin monastery at Cape St Vincent and remarked on how close the ships sailed by.

Count Johann Centurius Hoffmann, Graf von Hoffmannsegg (1766-1849), was a naturalist from Dresden who travelled widely in Europe collecting flora and fauna. In Portugal in the years 1797-1801, he remarked upon the fig tree called the lampeira which gives two crops per year. We have one in our garden. He also said that Algarvean olive oil was not very good as the olives were not collected in one picking and they were not cleaned before they were pressed.

The Algarve has a history of poverty and neglect; it was raided for 300 years by corsairs both English and Moorish, host to sea battles off Cape St Vincent, disadvantaged by the Inquisition and by British capitalists. On the other hand, the Algarvians and the Serranos, thought by some to be ugly, are for the most part welcoming and generous, which is one of the reasons we live here.

By Lynne Booker

Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association.