If you have been in Olhão da Restauração a hundred years ago then it would not just have been the cubes that you reminded you of the middle east. A heavy and long cloak which was worn by some of the women may have also have struck you as more eastern than western. Since the cloak was accompanied by a black shawl which completely covered the head, and created a conical tube over the face from which the woman could look out.
The cloak and shawl was called the Bioco and it reminds me of the Niqab and Persian chador. However unlike the chador, which dates back to at least the 6th century and can still be seen today, the bioco is no longer worn. It was banned by the Governor of Faro in 1892, only a couple of hundred years or so after the bioco first came into existence. It would seem the Governor banned women from wearing the bioco because of the freedom of travel it gave women!
Following the ban it was rare to see a woman in a bioco in the Algarve, except in Olhão where, perhaps unsurprisingly given the history of this town, they were a bit more rebellious. Here it was frequently worn up until the 1940s, which explains why it appears in some many paintings and sketches of Olhão.
If you pop along to the museum there is a rather lovely video of someone wearing one, and you can almost imagine the air of mystery that must have surrounded the women who wore them. They could look upon us but we, despite us hearing them in their slippers, wouldn’t have been able to see them.