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Vila Real de Santo António - the Little Lisbon of the Algarve

While some bypass the town of Vila Real de Santo António in the Algarve, they are missing a real treat. Look at it a little Lisbon - here's why...  Set between Spain, Castro Marim, Tavira and the Atlantic Ocean, the is a new town in the timeline of Portuguese history.

The mouth of the Guadiana River divides the Portuguese Algarve from Spain, and for many years the only Portuguese city that protected the territory in that area was Castro Marim. Fishing became a big issue by the 18th century - leading the crown to take action. A Royal Charter was signed on December 30, 1773, which called for the creation of a new city right in plain view of Spain - and Vila Real de Santo António was born.


Vila Real would rise where there used to be a small fishing village called Santo António da Arenilha. Sebastian José de Carvalho e Melo, better known as Marquês de Pombal, prime minister to King Dom José I, was the man responsible for the creation of the plan. The building of  Vila Real  was quite fast; In March of 1774 they laid the first stone and by August of the same year the  Customs House was finished, and the construction of the church had begun. The buildings were built in the same way as the downtown Lisbon would be, with prefabricated parts that were later set in place, making the construction more uniform and faster. The works were completed by May 13, 1776. The city was developed in a perfect urban grid, centered on the Marquês de Pombal Square. It was a shining gem on the banks the Guadiana River. When Lisbon was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1775 - Vila Real de Santo António would be the model. 

 

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And it had a massive fishing fleet.Thye caught sardines and tuna and soon it became a cannery center. The place blossomed as the Spanish washed, and this as the first city to have gas lighting in Portugal in 1886.

 

 

 

 

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