The most obvious symbol of traditional architecture in the Algarve is undoubtedly the chimney, which translated house owners’ individuality and displayed their wealth. No two chimneys were alike and the more intricate their design, the more expensive they were to make. Fine examples of these symbols of popular art and creative skill can be seen on wealthier rural dwellings in the inland Algarve.
The platband is another characteristic feature of the Algarve’s architectural heritage. Ornamented with geometric shapes and colours, this elegant decorative feature gives a finishing touch to façades and conceals the roof or roof terrace. It contrasts with the brightness of the whitewash, applied annually out of neatness and pride, and matches the colourful frames around the doors and windows.
The hipped roofs or scissor roofs are typical of aristocratic cities and denote a strong oriental aesthetic influence, brought Portugal to along with silk and spices. They are associated with Tavira, the princess of the River Gilão, a well-preserved architectural jewel, which was a port of great strategic importance. They can also be found in Faro, but there are not many left there.
In the western Algarve, or Barlavento, winds blow in off the Atlantic, and inland a mountain climate reigns. Here, the houses are generally simpler and less sophisticated, built in lath and plaster or stone, undecorated and only whitewashed. These charmingly simple rural houses are also found in the uplands of the Serra do Caldeirão.
On the coast, you will often see houses with roof terraces of Arab inspiration, which served as look-out points to watch the sea and the fishing boats bringing their catches ashore. They also provided a private space on which to dry fruit and fish, and to rest on the hot summer nights.
Olhão is the epitome of this architecture with its pure and simple lines. Indeed, the city has been nicknamed the cubist city because of its winding layout of constructions clustered together in cubes in Moroccan fashion.