At the weekend we were surprised to discover that Olhão was not just a fishing centre, it was once the biggest centre of production of sapatos de ourelo, a kind of slipper. This beautiful and colourful cloth shoe/slipper was regularly made and used throughout the Algarve until as recently as the mid 20th century.
They were not factory produced products. It was a cottage industry, and at one time there were around 70 women hand-making them in Olhão. By the 1980s however there were only a few women left still making them.
The name translates as ‘shoes of edging/margins’ and originated from the practice of using scraps of soldiers uniforms, including the decorated edging in their production. Narrow strips of fabric are interwoven with strips of wool, and fur is also used to add further decoration and, I suspect, also warmth. The sole was wood and was added afterwards by a shoemaker. Apparently in coastal areas they were called “chalocas” and in the interior “cloques”, due to the noise made when walking in them. The city museum is currently showing a short video of how these beautiful slippers were made, I captured a few moments.