Ferragudo 500 years back in time

We feel connected with Ferragudo, with the village and its inhabitants. It was with great pleasure and dedication that we started looking for the roots of this special village. These stories go back 500 years in time. We hope you enjoy them.

Ferragudo before 1520
The estuary of the Arade River has been visited by seafaring peoples for thousands of years. The Phoenicians, who inhabited the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, controlled trade along the Mediterranean coast from 1200 to 600 BC. Then the Greeks took over the trade, who were then outflanked by the Carthaginians from the north of Africa. From about 200 BC to 400 AD, the Algarve was part of the Roman Empire. The Romans made the fish sauce ‘garum’ on the beaches, which was shipped in amphorae to every corner of the empire. On Praia da Angrinha, the beach between the castle and the church, remains of fish salt tanks have been found in which the sauce was prepared.

The name of the Arade river probably also comes from the Roman period. ‘Aradus’ was the Latin name for an island in the Mediterranean Sea that was then known as a safe harbour and trading point. Around 400 AD, the Visigoths from the Balkans plundered Rome and occupied Spain and the southern part of Portugal. At the beginning of the eighth century, they were expelled by the Moors from the north of Africa.

The Algarve, derived from the Arabic ‘Al-Gharb’, which means ‘The West’, experienced an unprecedented economic and cultural boom through the Moors. Silves became the capital of Al-Gharb and, at its peak, had more than 20,000 inhabitants. It was known as ‘Baghdad of the West’. In 1139, Count Afonso of the county of ‘Portucale’ defeated the Moors at the ‘Battle of Ourique’ and was proclaimed king of Portugal.

But Al-Gharb still remained in the hands of the Moors. More than a hundred years later, his great-grandson King Afonso III of Portugal expelled the Moors from the Algarve and then also became king of the Algarve. In the early 15th century, Portugal started the explorations along the coast of Africa from Lagos. Silves declined in importance as a result of that, while the silting of the Arade river made it increasingly difficult to reach the city.

Why the settlement of Ferragudo?
On August 21, 1520, Queen Dona Leonor agreed to the request of the city of Silves to establish a settlement at the site of Ferragudo. The cosy central square here is named after her. Silves was then the capital of the Algarve and the bishop had his seat there. However, the significance of Silves had greatly reduced. Lagos became more and more the centre of the Algarve through the voyages of discovery and the trade that resulted from them. Due to the silting up of the Arade river, the accessibility of Silves deteriorated more and more and the new city of Vila Nova de Portimão became more important. In addition, the infectious plague had settled in Silves. Bishop Dom Fernando Coutinho, therefore, rarely came into the city and sought a healthy shelter outside the city for the citizens of Silves and for himself. Through Ferragudo, Silves would gain influence at the mouth of the Arade River and be able to compete with the growing Vila Nova de Portimão on the other side of the river.

Letter from Queen Dona Leonor – August 21, 1520
Here, as best as possible, the letter has been translated from Old Portuguese into an understandable text that clarifies the meaning.

“Dona Leonor, by the grace of God, Queen of Portugal and the Algarves on this side and beyond the sea in Africa, Lady of Guinea – With this decree we want to inform everyone concerned that we have decided to establish a settlement on the place of Ferragudo on the outskirts of our city of Silves, making this place part of the city as we believe this is an improvement for the people who are going to settle there. People do not have to move outside the city and, therefore, do not have to experience the pressure to incur costs. Anyone can come to this place freely and without fear to inhabit it. With this decree, we promise and guarantee that this population will forever remain part of the city and will never be under the supervision of any other party and will be forever linked to this city as are the other places in this area. And the growing population will have the same government and rights and will always remain united with this city. We ask the gracious king, my brother and the prince, our beloved and dear cousin and the kings who come after him to recognise and execute this decree in the service of and for the honour of your kingdoms.”

The Portuguese royal family around 1520
It was common at the time for royal marriages to be arranged early on. At the Portuguese court, for example, the 15-year-old crown prince João was linked to his 12-year-old niece Leonor. Five years later, their child Afonso was born, which ensured the continuity of the monarchy. But it would all turn out differently than expected. About 10 years after they were married, João and Leonor became king and queen and Leonor was allocated, among others, Silves and Faro for an independent income. They lived in the heyday of Portugal when the money-consuming explorations along the African coast started to pay off with the trade in gold, slaves and spices.

Then, in 1491, the 16-year-old crown prince Afonso died riding a horse. Who should now become heir to the throne? As usual in those circles, João had an illegitimate son and pushed him forward as crown prince. Leonor preferred her younger brother Manuel who was also a full cousin of the king. The Pope in Rome finally decided that Manuel would become heir to the throne. It was not long before he actually became King of Portugal and the Algarves, because in 1495 King João II was poisoned and died while visiting Alvor. His heir to the throne Manuel, who was still unmarried, became king and Leonor remained queen.

Dona Leonor
Queen Dona Leonor was the richest woman in Europe and very concerned with those less fortunate. She founded Santa Casa da Misericórdia (Holy House of Mercy) to help and care for the poor, the sick, the handicapped and neglected children. It still exists and still has the exclusive right in Portugal to operate games of chance which generates a lot of money for charities.

A favour to the bishop
It seems plausible that Queen Dona Leonor granted the bishop a favour in 1520 with the permission to build a walled settlement here in Ferragudo. Portugal had founded colonies along the African coast and, in 1498, Vasco da Gama reached the coast of India via the southern route, which was then considered to be the source of the most valuable spices.

The royal house in Spain, mad with envy of the Portuguese successes, accepted Christopher Columbus’s offer to reach India via a western route. In 1492, he arrived on an island near the Bahamas and discovered America.

With both Portugal and Spain conquering the world, the Pope had to decide who was entitled to what. The interests were high and there was a tough negotiation. Negotiations were held on behalf of Portugal in 1502 by the later Bishop of the Algarve, Dom Fernando Coutinho. He had good relations with Rome from his studies in Italy. And he did well! The result was a line of demarcation between the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands and the Spanish Bahamas. The land to the east of the line was for Portugal and to the west for Spain.

Five years later, Portugal discovered the coast of Brazil that was just east of the negotiated demarcation line. Portugal seems to have had prior knowledge of this.

We now know that Bishop Dom Fernando Coutinho also had a personal interest in establishing a settlement here. He led a frivolous life. For example, he had at least six children with different women, which makes a shelter outside the city very convenient. In any case, it has been of special significance to Ferragudo, which is underlined by the episcopal mitre above the Portuguese coat of arms on the façade of the former town hall at the church in Ferragudo.

Queen of Portugal and the Algarves
In 1249, the king of Portugal, Afonso III, and his troops expelled the Moors from Al-Gharb which became Algarve. From that time, the king of Portugal was also king of the Algarve. But Dona Leonor was queen of not one but two Algarves. How could this be? After the departure of the Moors, it went downhill with the Algarve and Silves. About 150 years later, the Algarve came back to life with Portuguese explorations along the coast of Africa. Step by step, the unknown sea and the African coast were explored and discovered from the city of Lagos.

In 1471, the explorers had come to Guinea, just below the Cape Verde Islands, and the land discovered was called the Algarve on the other side of the sea. From then until the end of the monarchy in 1910, the royal title was ‘King of Portugal and the Algarves on this side of and beyond the sea in Africa’.
Around 1520, when Dona Leonor had founded Ferragudo, Portugal was a world power. Also, in the same year, the Tower of Belém near Lisbon was completed, a symbol of Portugal’s greatness.

Ferragudo a safe place to drop anchor
There are several explanations on where the name Ferragudo comes from. For one, a Spanish nobleman Johane Anes Ferro Agudo would be the namesake. It is also suggested that there was once a sharp (agudo) iron machine (engenho de ferro) on Praia da Angrinha for landing fish. The merger of ‘ferro’ and ‘agudo’ became Ferragudo.

The most remarkable explanation is that in the battle for Silves, the Moorish giant ‘Ferragut’ was killed here and, therefore, it was named after this giant. The Moorish giant is described in the well-known Song of Roland that was popular with the crusaders who wanted to expel the Moors from Spain and Portugal. After a heroic battle, Crusader Roland killed the invincible giant, who “was not afraid of a spear and had the strength of 40 strong men”.

The most logical explanation for Ferragudo’s origin is that here people found a safe place to anchor, especially in the event of an emergency. The old Portuguese ‘ferrar’ is derived from the Latin ‘ferrāre’ which means ‘to throw an anchor’ and the old Portuguese ‘agudo’ comes from the Latin ‘acūtus’ which stands for urgent. The merger of ‘ferrar’ and ‘agudo’ has led to the name Ferragudo.

The striking details of a 400-year-old map
Ferragudo is first indicated on a map of Portugal and the Algarve from 1560. So, 40 years after its foundation, there was apparently already a visible settlement that justified a mention on the map. Another detailed map of the mouth of the Arade river dates from 1617. This map was created by the Italian engineer Alexandre Massai, who was tasked with inspecting and improving the defences of the Algarve coast.

A wall and three towers (V) on the site of the current church and the pastoral centre are clearly recognisable. The saltwater mill (S) stood on the spot where the bridge is now in the middle of the central square. Now it also becomes clear why there is a millstone on display, which was probably found there.

The sheltered anchorage (X) is an inlet at the current Praia da Angrinha where the fishing boats used to anchor. Where the blue bridge ‘Ponte Velha’ is now was the ferry to the other side of the river and the boarding point for the boat to Silves (C).

This part of the old town is still called ‘Largo da Barca’, the square of the boat. Vila Nova de Portimão (A) was a walled city with 600 people inside and 300 people outside the walls. We also see salt fields (E), a hill with fig trees and vineyards (I) and the monastery of the São Francisco Order (G), the ruins of which are still standing.

The lost watchtower
It is remarkable that on the map of Alexandre Massai from 1617, there is no watchtower on the site of the current ‘Castelo do Arade’. It should have been there at the time. The first private occupant of the castle, Joaquim Coelho de Carvalho, writes to a friend in 1918: “At the site of the fortress now, after being attacked by Algerian pirates, King João II ordered a watchtower to be built.” That must have been between 1481 and 1495, the reign of King João II who was married to Queen Dona Leonor.

Proof that there was indeed a watchtower is provided by the Dutch skipper Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer from Enkhuizen. In 1584, he made a map of the Algarve coast and, very special, a description for the particular attention of skippers navigating the estuary. Zooming in on the map from 1584 at ‘Fera gudo’, an island can be seen in the mouth of the Arade river marked with something red on it, which we find described as a tower: “Keep the mast in line with the tower on the east side and sail in on the east side past the tower, then sail north to the town of Villa Nova.”

It can only be explained that this tower was no longer there when Alexandre Massai was here, otherwise he would certainly have indicated it on the map.
In 1607, the Portuguese geographer Henrique Fernandes Sarrão writes in his book ‘História do Reino do Algarve’ about Ferragudo: “The wall has collapsed in many places and the houses are dilapidated.” It could just be that the aggressive Moors from the north of Africa, who had continuously attacked the Algarve coast for centuries already, had largely destroyed Ferragudo at the time.

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Bright Homes Algarve, Ferragudo

The map shows an island in the mouth of the Arade river marked with something red on it, which we find described as a tower
1584 map by Dutch skipper Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer showing ‘Fera gudo’
Millstone on display near bridge
1617 map by Italian engineer Alexandre Massai showing the mouth of the Arade river
Episcopal mitre above the Portuguese coat of arms on the façade of the former town hall
Queen Dona Leonor
The central square is named after Queen Dona Leonor, who founded the settlement at Ferragudo
An intact amphora recovered from the Arade in June 2018