Portugal is a country with a long and rich history as the southern gateway to Europe. In centuries past the Algarve’s frontline position has attracted quite a number of inhabitants and their influence has left it’s mark in the shape of buildings and features in the landscape.
Lying along ancient trading routes by sea has meant the Algarve was invaded and settled several times by different tribes. The Conii are known as the earliest dwellers here, then came the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians (who founded Portimão in 550 BC), Romans, Visigoths and Moors. The lasting influence of Islamic rule in the Algarve has set it apart from the rest of the country even though that ended in the 13th century.
In the 2nd century BC the Algarve came under Roman rule as part of their empire expanded across Western Europe. Leaving a lasting impression on the area, they brought with them vines to produce wine and fruit trees, finely laid mosaics as well as their skills and technology in civil engineering with roads and bridges, aqueducts and plumbing. Christianity also replaced older pagan traditions.
There are some maintained ruin sites in the Algarve for tourists to visit as well as forgotten features dotted across the whole region.
Here are some of the notable Roman ruins to be found in the Algarve:
Museu Municipal de Faro – visit the museum for some superb examples of Roman mosaics as well as other archeological finds and history of the region.
São Brás de Alportel – Calçadinha: is a roman road of 1480 metres.
Vilamoura - Cerro do Vila : This Roman villa is situated not far from Falesia beach in central Vilamoura and dates from between the 1 and 3rd century. It also has a small museum featuring the artefacts found in the area. These ruins display beautiful geometric mosaic tiled floors and there are descriptions with displays of the different rooms that would have existed, including baths, a kitchen and reception. There is also evidence of a lake and dam to supply precious water to the inhabitants and the reason for the Romans to settle in the area.
Estói –Near to Faro in Estói are the Milreu ruins; remains of a wealthy Roman villa with a wine press, baths, mausoleums and temple dating from the 4th century as well as an inner courtyard and collonade with 22 columns. Remains of the colourful mosaic floors depicting jumping fish can be seen as well as inlaid marble. Nearby is also an example of a 16th century Algarvean farmhouse which was built over part of the ruins.
Portimão – Abicada ruins: This is rather a folorn site and not so easy to access. They are the foundations of another Villa but it is very overgrown with just the remants of the walls forming a grid pattern. The ruins stand right on the edge of a headland jutting into the Alvor estuary, with views across the entire low valley. A signpost from the EN125 guides you there along a bumpy dirt road. See also the Museum in Portimão for a history of a fishing heritage dating back to Neolithic times.
Praia da Luz – Vila da Luz ruins: Occupying prime real estate in Praia da Luz with its beach front view, this is a small site accessed from the promenade below through a doorway and up some steps (locked at night). These ruins were once a spa with baths and also feature tanks specially designed for salting freshly caught fish. There is not much left in the way of decoration apart from some small parts of mosaic tiling but it gives an indication of how old the settlement of Luz is. A little further into the village there are also the remnants of a small Roman acqueduct (along Rua do Poco).
A couple of hours drive north will take you to Évora in the Alentejo where there is a magnificent 1st century temple to the goddess Diana standing in one of the main squares. Évora is very much worth an overnight stay just to admire the changing scenery on the way up through vineyards and then to explore the history of this lovely market town.