The white contour of a church on a hilltop. Narrow streets of the old fishermen and tradesmen quarter. Some aspects that identify the character of this city, old of many centuries. The presence of the sea, the immense beach known by the name of Praia da Rocha.
Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception)
Situated on a hilltop, this church has for centuries been a distinctive feature of the city skyline. First built in the 15th century, it was rebuilt in the 18th and extensively renovated in the 19th. Of the original structure all that remains is a fine gothic doorway with decorated capitals, a gargoyle and buttresses. The interior consists of three naves. On the high altar is an impressive carved and gilded retable with baroque decoration. Among the various statues, that of St. Peter the Apostle (16th century) stands out, along with four crucifixes made of ivory and lignum vitae. There are fonts in the Manueline style (16th century) and an ashlar of glazed tiles of diverse origin (17th century).
This austere and majestic edifice was built on the orders of Diogo Gonçalves, a nobleman who made his fortune in the Far East and is buried in a tomb made of polychrome marble inside the church. Construction work continued from 1660 to 1707 and the church needed major repairs after the earthquake of 1755.
The façade is made up of three sections. The section corresponding to the church is higher than the other two and has a curved pediment. The right-hand section has a Manueline doorway (16th century). The church, which is the biggest in the Algarve, consists of a single nave, like a large hall, and is typical of its kind. The high altar and lateral altars contain gilded carvings (beginning of the 18th century) which are of interest for their profuse decoration, with a Renaissance statue of the Virgin and Child (16th century) and others dating from the 17th/18th centuries. The side altars contain a statue of Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady of Piety) and a crucifixion of Senhor Jesus dos Milagres (Lord Jesus of Miracles) (17th century). At the head of the nave, in a glass-fronted alcove, is a large-scale statue of Senhor dos Aflitos (The Lord of the Afflicted).
Chapel of São José (St. Joseph)
This building, with its plain façade and curved pediment, is located in the old part of the city, opposite the naval shipyards and the "Largo da Barca", which was where the ferry across the river would dock in the days before the bridge was built.
All that is left of medieval Portimão are a few stretches of the city walls now hidden by houses. The old town is dominated by the architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: two storey houses, with wrought iron balconies and ornate stonework around windows and doors, decorated with balustrades of stone and ceramics, and walls covered with tiles. The old palace of the Viscounts of Bívar (18th century), a building of fine classical lines, is now home to the municipal council.
To get a feel for the spirit of Portimão, there is nothing better than to sit in the shade of the trees in the Manuel Bívar gardens and while away the time, watching the fishing boats and pleasure craft motor pass, and to walk through streets and squares that typify an active, industrious town that has succeeded in keeping pace with progress.
Praia da Rocha
Fine golden sands as far as the eye can see. Calm turquoise waters. Ochre cliffs and rocks sculpted into fantastical shapes. Such is the natural beauty of Praia da Rocha, a place which inspires visitors today as it has always done.
Discovered by tourism at the end of the 19th century, it was for decades the favoured resort of well-to-do families from Portimão, the Algarve and Andalusia in summer, and of the English in winter. The Hotel da Bela Vista, with its Belle Époque architecture and decoration, dates from this period.
In the 50s and 60s Praia da Rocha began to draw an increasingly international clientele and these days it is a cosmopolitan tourism centre and a byword throughout Europe for sun, sea and sand.
Santa Catarina de Ribamar Fortress (St. Catherine of Ribamar)
Along with the fort of St. John of Arade, across the water in Ferragudo, this fortification constituted Portimão's defences against raiding corsairs and pirates.
Built in the 17th/18th centuries in an excellent strategic position, it affords splendid views of the sea, river, beaches and cliffs. A great place to be at sunset.
Inside is an old chapel dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria.