Following 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.
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)
The 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. However 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‘.