The castle and the bell-towers of a multitude of churches. The river like a mirror reflecting houses and gardens. The distinctive outline of roofs in the local "tesouro" ("treasure") style. Broad vistas of sea and sand. These are among the charms of Tavira, a city of art and history and an essential port of call on any cultural tour of the Algarve.
Along with the ramparts that surrounded the city, sections of the walls of which still stand between the houses, and the Porta da Misericórdia (Gate of Mercy), the castle was part of the city's defensive system. The old Moorish fortification was rebuilt by King Dinis (1261-1325).
From the top of its towers there is a vast panoramic view over Tavira, the surrounding countryside and the sea.
Church of Santa Maria do Castelo (Saint Mary of the Castle)
Probably built on the site of the old mosque, this church dates from the 13th century. It has undergone alterations subsequently, some of them as a consequence of the earthquake of 1755.
It has a gothic porch, with capitals bearing vegetal ornamentation. Outside there are other gothic features to be seen: an ogival window, a small rose window and corbels and gargoyles on the head stone The clocktower also dates from the original building, though it displays subsequent decorative additions.
The interior consists of three vaulted naves. On the left-hand wall of the main chapel is the tomb of the seven Knights of the Order of Sant'Iago (St. James) killed in a Moorish ambush, an episode which prompted the conquest of the city. On the pulpit there is a beautiful statue of the Nossa Senhora (Holy- Lady) (18th century).
The walls of the Capela do Santíssimo (Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament) are decorated with tiles depicting holy stories (18th century). The Capelas das Almas (Chapels of Souls) have carved retable, the central portion of which contains religious iconography depicted in high relief (early 18th century). The Capela do Senhor dos Passos (Chapel of the Lord of Passion) has tiled walls (17th century) and a carved retable (18th century).
In the sacristy there are 18th century tiles decorated with baskets of fruit and vases of flowers. Among the church treasures, which include objects wrought of precious metals from the 16th and 18th centuries and vestments, a delightful missal lectern of Japanese origin ("nambam" art) dating from the 16th/17th centuries deserves a special mention.
A Mysterious Tomb
A plaque in the main chapel indicates the site of the tomb of Paio Peres Correia, a valiant master of the Order of Sant'Iago (St. James) who played a decisive role in the Christian reconquest of the Algarve and part of the south of Spain. Strangely enough, the Spanish monastery of Santa Maria de Tentúdia (Saint Mary of Tentúdia) also has a tomb which is said to he that of Paio Peres Correia. Nobody knows for sure where the old knight's mortal remains are really to be found.
Church of Misericórdia (Mercy)
This is deservedly regarded as the finest Renaissance (16th century) building in the Algarve.
It has a porch of great beauty crowned by a statue of Nossa Senhora da Mìsericórdia (Our Lady of Mercy) under a canopy whose curtains are held back by two angels. On either side are the arms of Portugal and Tavira and two high reliefs depicting Sao Pedro (St. Peter) and São Paulo (St. Paul).
The interior is composed of three naves, with Renaissance-style capitals decorated with grotesques. In the main chapel there is a spectacularly carved and gilded retable and statues of Nossa Senhora da Visitação (Our Lady of the Visitation) and Santa Isabel (St. Elizabeth) (18th century). In one of the side chapels there is a fine carved retable surrounding a circular painting of Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception) (18th century). The tiles on the walls date from the same period. They depict works of charity and have captions describing the scenes they illustrate.
In the sacristy there is a statue of the Crucifixion which way date from the 16th century. There is a small cloister adjoining.
Church of Sant'Iago (St. James)
Erected, according to tradition, on the site of the town's lesser mosque. Begun in the 17th century, it has undergone successive alterations.
Though architecturally modest, it is home to a valuable collection of statues and
paintings, some of them from monasteries that have closed down. Among the statues, special mention is due to the Nossa Senhora da Conceição (Our Lady of the Conception) (18th century) in the main chapel, the Nossa Senhora a Franca (Our lady the Candid) (possibly 16th century) and the Holy Family (18th century) in side chapels. In the sacristy there is an interesting statue of the Virgin (15th century?) and others, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Church of São Paulo (St. Paul)
Built at the beginning of the 17th century, it was part of a former monastery. The façade has a porch. A statue of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (Our Lady of the Help) (17th century) stands in a niche.
The interior consists of a single nave. The main altar has a carved retable (17th/l8th centuries) with a statue of Nossa Senhora da Ajuda (Our Lady of the Help) (18th century).
The side altars of Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Carmel) and Nossa Senhora do Rosário (Our lady of the Rosary) and the two side altars of Souls also have carved, ungilded retables dating from the 18th century. The retable of the Gospel is decorated with a polychrome low relief depicting the Last Supper (17th century).
The church houses a fine collection of 17th and 18th century statues, most notable among which is a virgin of Flemish origin (15th century) in the transept.
The pavement of the transept is unique m Portugal: it is made up of small red bricks and lozenges painted with figures, of Spanish origin (17th century).
In the sacristy there are two 16th century panels showing the adoration of the Infant Jesus, and statues from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Church of Carmo (Carmel)
Built in the second half of the 18th century. In the main chapel there is a large carved and gilded retable, which along with the side retables, paintings, statues, pew, organ and holy treasure constitutes a fine example of baroque art in the Algarve.
Church of São José do Hospital (St. Joseph of the Hospital)
This church was built to an octagonal plan at the end of the 18th century. It has a porch in the "rocaille" style and a main altar with "trompe l'oeil" paintings. There are statues of São Vicente Ferrer (St. Vincent Ferrer), Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Our Lady of Carmel) and Santa Teresa (St. Theresa) which are good examples of 18th century sculpture. Adjoining the church is part of the Chapel of Sao Brás (Saint Brás) (15th century) with a ribbed vault and a delicate rose window.
Church of São Francisco (St. Francis)
Medieval in origin, this church, which was once part of a monastery, underwent a major transformation in the 19th century on account of collapse and fire. All that remains of the original gothic structure is the sacristy, with its broad window and vault, and two chapels in the old wall. It has a highly decorative baroque bell-tower (18th century).
In addition to a number of 18th century statues and four large canvasses by an Algarvean artist of the same period, the church is notable for a statue of Santa Ana (St. Anne) offering a piece of fruit to the Infant Jesus seated in the Virgin's lap, which possibly dates from the 15th century. The carved and gilded baroque altar and the twelve niches in the Sanctuary - nowadays a side chapel - were part of the original church. In the Casa da Irmandade (House of the Brotherhood) - the old gatehouse to the monastery - there is an ashlar of patterned tiles (17th century).
Church of Santo António (St. Anthony)
This belonged to a small monastery, of which the cloister still remains (17th century). Its most significant works of art are a series of almost life-size pictures depicting events from the life of the saint (17th century).
Chapel of São Sebastião (St. Sebastian)
This structure is of architectural interest because of the shape of the main chapel - cubic, covered by a semi-spherical calotte, and the longer, lower body of the church (17th/18th century).
The "trompe I'oeil" paintings on the walls and the canvasses depicting scenes from tire life of Jesus and Our Lady (18th century) have led to this chapel being made into an Painting Museum.
Also of interest are the carvings and statuary, vestments and holy treasure (18th century). In the sacristy there is a 17th century tiled ashlar.
Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Consolação (Our Lady of the Consolation)
Polychrome tiles dating from the 17th century, a retable with paintings (16th/17th centuries) in the main chapel and a harmonious statue of the patron saint make up the patrimony of this simple Chapel.
Chapel of Santa Ana (St. Anne)
Already in existence in the 16th century, this chapel was rebuilt in the 18th century. It boasts a fine collection of works of art, including carved altars, statues, a panel depicting Christ after the descent from the Cross (16th century) and a font supported by a twisted gothic column.
Chapel of Nossa Senhora do Livramento (Our Lady of the Liberation)
The façade is decorated with blue tiles from the 18th century. The interior contains a small treasure of baroque decoration (18th century) in the gilded carving of the main chapel, triumphal arch and side chapels. There are also a number of statues from the same period.
Chapel of São Pedro Gonçalves Telmo (ou das Ondas)
(St. Elmo or of the Waves)
This belonged to the Compromisso Marítimo (Maritime Agreement), a mutual association for sailors and fishermen. It probably has its origins in a 16th century building It is built on a trapezoid plan and boasts a carved and gilded retable, paintings on the ceiling and altar panels and 18th century statues. The small, but elegant statue of Nossa Senhora das Ondas (Our Lady of the Waves) and the tiles on the main altar and in the sacristy date from the 17th century however. A side wall bears the arms of King Manuel, the Marquises of Vila Real and the Counts of Alcoutim (16th century).
Lagar Museu (Casa das Artes)
(Olive Press Museum - House of the Arts)
This was formerly the home of the agricultural landowner, and its façade includes balconies facing the river. The Olive Press Museum offers an insight into the ancient techniques used to extract oil from the olives picked in the fields around Tavira. It includes an exhibition hall and an engraving workshop.
Forte do Rato
Built in the 16th century at the mouth of the Gilão River. This fort defended the entrance to the harbour. It was redesigned during the War of the Restoration (1640-1668).
Chapel of Calvário (Calvary)
The rural origins of this building are apparent in its simple architecture, in the stonework highlighted with lines of colour, and in the bull's-eye window over the porch. The interior walls are painted with "trompe l'oeil" decoration; there is also a statue of the Crucifixion (18th century) and a tomb stone.
Palácio da Galeria
This building probably dates back to the 16th century. The palace was remodelled in the middle of the 18th century. This is one of the most notable examples of civil architecture in Tavira and its special features are the Baroque stonework of the doorway and the windows on the upper floor. It was restored to be used for cultural and artistic events. It is planned to be the future Museum of the City and Centre of Contemporary Art.
Torre de Tavira (Câmara Obscura)
Tavira Tower (Dark Chamber ) Here you can go on a journey to see live 360º images of the city, projected by means of a system of lenses and mirrors at the top of the old water tower.
In the 1500s Tavira was the most populous city in the Algarve and a port of great strategic importance. The events of that period have left an enduring mark on the layout and appearance of the city.
Vestiges of that glorious past are still to be seen in some streets, such as Rua dos Pelames, where 16th century houses gaze at their reflections in the waters of the Gilão, or the corner house on Rua Nova da Avenida, with its fine Renaissance window. It is also visible in the delicate double window on Í'ravessa de D. Brites, in the doorways of Calçada da Corujeira and Rua de São Brás, in the magnificent porch of what was the Monastry of Bernardas. But it is the Renaissance medallions of the Lady and the Knight on the façade of a building on Rua José Pires Padrinha that evoke better than anything else those far-off days of pageantry, elegance and courtly love.
After Renaissance Tavira it is time to get to know the city of the baroque period, a Tavira to be seen in the many noble houses hidden away down narrow streets or standing proudly on the banks of the river, with their distinctive triangular roofs sloping to a point - known as "tesouro" (treasure) roofs - and their finely-carved stonework
Tavira also owes its appeal to the river and its reflections, to the changing nuances of the light and the special atmosphere of a town built on the water's edge. The ancient bridge which has for centuries joined the two halves of the city is the perfect place to stand and watch the river flow by.
Tavira's streets have another secret waiting to be discovered in the latticed doors, made of finely interwoven lengths of wood, which evoke the Moorish inheritance that persists in Algarvean culture to this day.