A week or so ago I shared a post on the new outdoor exhibition ‘Memories of Our History: The Canning Industry in Olhão’, and mentioned our fascination with the map which details the location of some of the factories. Well this is the first of a series of posts which will explore our heritage adventures on the streets of Olhão.
If you had visited the Conservas de Portugal Digital Museum section on Olhão you may recall the historians and archivists have identified three main areas where the factories popped up – núcleo noroeste, sul moinho do Levante and sul prainhas. The latter two are the older areas, housing other industrial activities including salt warehouses, brine and guano factories and the town slaughter house. Both were once marshy areas, and continued to experience flooding until the building of the harbour walls, some of which were not built until the 1980s. This is why the land was predominantly used for industrial purposes rather than housing. But that’s now all changing.
Olhão has developed significantly since we first visited. Tourism is now a major industry, with many of the workers houses and ruined buildings being bought up by foreigners and Lisboetas, and converted into holiday cottages and boutique B&Bs. Modern flats and hotels are also being constructed, including our oversized apartment block. As you can imagine there are upsides and downsides to all these changes and the ongoing developments. However this post is about our heritage adventure, and our rooftop happens to be a great location from which to start. Just look at this view of what the historians have called núcleo sul prainhas.
Once there were at least five factories here, two founded in the 19th century and three in the 20th. One of them is still occupied to this day (no 47 on the map), albeit now operating as a salt factory. In the 1920s it was Soiedade de Conservas ‘Belo Monte’, and it continued operating as a canning factory until at least the 1930s.
The area immediately surrounding the factory was known as Barraquinhas (shacks) and that’s because it was literally covered in them. You can just about see them in this old photograph. Very basic accommodation housing the ever increasing number of fisherman and factory workers. Work was unpredictable and so whilst some industrialists built permanent houses for their workers, most constructed temporary accommodation that were little more than slums. Eventually the authorities realised they needed to build permanent housing, and this began to be constructed from 1938 onward in other parts of the town (António Aguiar’s map), and the temporary housing in this area began to be abandoned. When large scale tourism arrived in Olhão in the 21st century this seemed the obvious place, and an enormous hotel and multiple apartment blocks were constructed here. Much of it however remains open land and is still occupied by temporary residents. No longer slums for the workers though, these days it is holidaymakers and travellers in their camper vans and expensive RVs!
The next factory is diagonally across from Soiedade de Conservas ‘Belo Monte’, and is numbered no 18 on the map. This was the factory of Figueira & Ca, Ida, These have not stayed in use, and are now ruins; even the chimney has not survived. However we did spot the remains of the tracks.
The third factory I was hoping to find was owned by Italians – Gio-Batta Trabucco – and it is no 3 on the map. Dating from at least 1896 it was still operating into the 1930s. Initially I thought it still existed, and excitedly began photographing. On double checking the map though we realised we were looking at another factory or more likely a warehouse located next door. Still I had to include the building in my gallery because of the graffiti!
Gio-Batta’s original buildings sadly have long gone, and all that remains now is a plaque on the wall of the modern flats and also some of the houses in the surrounding area. Apparently this industrialist constructed permanent homes for some of their workers.
The final factory in this post is no30 on the map, originally owned by J.N.Pité Lda / João Cruz Gargalo, Lda. We knew this one was a ruin as we had walked past it years ago. It was licensed in 1923, towards the end of a period when there had been a huge worldwide demand for preserved products. However it looks like they didn’t survived the fish crisis (shortage) of 1925 since it does not appear on the 1936 listing of fishing canning factories in operation. The late 20s and early 30s were also a period when Portugal increased their factory regulations and there were huge developments in the mechanisation of canning production. Only those with the capital and foresight were going to survive. The buildings may have been used by another a canning company or more likely the factory was converted to guano operations, something that apparently happened throughout this time period. These days it houses storks!
When we return to Portugal early in the new year we plan to explore the most recent area núcleo noroeste, and also identify a few more of the factories in the area the historians have labelled sul moinho do Levante. Whilst you await those posts, here’s a modern day view of what was once multiple factories and warehouses along Olhão’s water front. Where the road and park is now was once the estuary, and boats could be hauled up almost to the factory doors. Don’t believe me? Then check out this photo from the 1950s.