The seafarers of Olhão

Fisherman's boats in the Yacht club marinaFollowing on from Sunday’s Blessing of the Sea I thought I’d share a little bit more about Olhão’s residents. By the late 17th century Olhão had rapidly grown from a small fishing village to a thriving town requiring the Fortress of São Lourenço to be built at the harbour entrance to protect it from pirate raids. Whilst it became its own parish separate from Faro in the 17th century, it was not until the early 19th century Olhão became its own entity.

In 1807 the French had occupied Portugal, and the Prince Regent and leading Portuguese families had fled for Brazil. Public uprisings against the French during their occupation were far and few between, but Olhão in 1808 was one of the few towns to take a stand, and they were successful.

Bom Successo
A replica of the Bom Successo, usually moored up by the markets but currently somewhere being restored!

Olhão’s uprising led to the French being overthrown in the Algarve, and less than one month afterwards sixteen men from Olhão boarded a small boat – Bom Sucesso – and sailed for Brazil to notify the Prince Regent that the French had been ousted from his Algarve Kingdom. The Olhanense achievements over the French and their extraordinary sail to Brazil led the Prince Regent to granting a royal charter and a new name – Vila de Olhão da Restauração. The rest of Portugal did not have quite the same success as the Algarve in ousting Napoleon’s troops and it was not until 1814 with the support of the English and Spanish that Portuguese eventually secured Portugal.

Olhão’s financial fortunes came from the fishing industry and its port; these days though both are a shadow of their former selves – just look at the photographs below. Whilst the fishing has declined, mainly due to the tuna taking a different migratory route, Olhão remains one of the main fishing centres in Portugal hence all my fish tales!

If you are still reading this and therefore managed to avoid being sidetracked by my fish tales, and the fascinating Museu Fotografico de Olhão website, let me sidetrack you with something else. Something which has been intriguing us and I hope you might be able to help with.

De duas classes de gente se compôs, portanto, inicialmente o povo do sítio de Olhão: da gente do campo, os montanheiros, e os marítimos. (There are two types of country people in Olhão – the hill people and the seafarers)

Working the saltpansThe full article from which I have taken the above quote seems to suggest that the seafarers (os marítimos) were the fisherman and sea traders, and that everyone else working on the land were the hill people (os montanheiros), and it was ‘os montanheiros’ who also worked in the salting and canning industries. Working the shellfish bedsHowever I’m not sure if the article means that the people who originally lived in the hills came down to the coast for work or whether they used the term ‘os montanheiros’ for anyone not working on the sea. Recently we were given the impression that ‘os montanheiros’  is used to describe those who were born, live, work and die in the hills, with one person explaining that ‘os montanheiros’ means hillbillies. We also learnt, this time from a local Archaeologist, that because of the constantly changing landscapes in the Ria Formosa the liveihoods of those who work the land, the traders and the fishermen were often in conflict. For example Tavira traders in the 18th/19th centuries were desperate for the Ria Formosa to be dredged but it was the last thing the fishermen wanted because of the impact dredging had on their shellfish beds and fish populations within the Ria Formosa.

I find social history fascinating and would love to hear from you if you know anything more about ‘os montanheiros’ or ‘os marítimos.

This picture and the other historical ones are all from Museu Fotografico de Olhao


Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

6 thoughts

  1. I think the terms reflect the age-old division of the labours of the land and of the sea. They required such different skills, often passed down within families, so even if you left the hills for the coast to try your luck you wouldn’t be accepted as a marítimo no matter how good you were or how hard you tried. (And vice-versa, no doubt.) Two different worlds. Very interesting post!

    1. That makes sense. In England of course the divide is town and country, or in the case of Isle of Wight – caulkhead and overner! The former now geographical but I guess once because of the Industrial Revolution, and the latter definitely geographical. I was once an overner.
      Glad you like the post 😊

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