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Port monument should become  tourist attraction

by INÊS LOPES [email protected]

A dilapidated 16th century, privately owned, monastery overlooking the Arade River in Portimão needs public investment to be saved from total ruin, says the initiator of an online public petition calling for the rehabilitation of the building.

Following the Algarve Resident’s report on the state of Monchique’s convent and the lack of initiative and funds to bring it back to life (February 3 issue), it is now the turn of Portimão’s Convento de São Francisco, dating back to 1530, to come under the spotlight after a group of citizens decided to call on the authorities to find a solution for the monument considered of public interest (Interesse Público) since November 30, 1993.

The monastery, which sits on the western banks of the river Arade by the commercial port, was founded by Simão Correia, Governor of Azamor, and its construction involved the adaptation of existing houses and a church at the time.

Its architecture, of the late-Manueline and Mannerist periods, is considered of great value to Portimão’s patrimonial and historical heritage.

Rehabilitation of the Convento de São Francisco would, say signatories to the petition, enrich the city’s tourist offer, particularly due to the building’s strategic position by the port, which annually receives thousands of cruise visitors, and thus boost the local economy.

Nuno Inácio, the first to sign the online petition, told the Algarve Resident: “The monument is the first thing cruise tourists see when they arrive at the ‘gates’ of the city.

“It is a shame that the monastery has been abandoned and left to ruin because of disagreement between public entities and the owners of the building for its acquisition by the former. The proprietors alone seem unable to obtain funds to turn the site into a profitable venture.”

The petition is directed at several public bodies, including the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Secretariat of State for Culture, the IGESPAR (the institute for the management of patrimonial and archaeological heritage) and Portimão Câmara.

At the time of going to press, close to 250 people had signed the petition, which highlights the importance of an urgent agreement between public and private parties in order to save the Convento de São Francisco, also known as Convento da Nossa Senhora da Esperança, Monastery of Our Lady of Hope.

Nuno Inácio said: “Ownership of the monument should be public. There are endless public uses for the building once rehabilitated, that go from creating a museum or cultural centre, to a guesthouse (Pousada) or a public service headquarters.”

During a visit to the site last week, the Algarve Resident reporters were advised by locals not to enter the premises as, they said, it was frequented by drug users and “it was dangerous”.

Police authorities take the same stance and recommend curious passers-by to keep away for safety reasons and also because the building is privately owned, therefore trespassing is not allowed.

However, the Algarve Resident spoke to a local person, who said he had entered the building and “politely” spoke to a man who is said to have made the monastery his home. “He let me have a look around and take photographs, I think because I approached him in a polite manner. But he was a squatter without a doubt.”

The online petition, says Nuno Inácio, aims to stop further degradation of the building, end the “quarrel” between public and private parties, which “does not serve a collective interest”, give back the monument to the population through its restoration and promote it as a tourist hotspot and a landmark of Portimão.


1530 – Foundation of the monastery by Simão Correia, captain of Azamor, who donates a few houses by the river to the Observant priests (Franciscan Order) of the Province of Portugal. Simão Correia’s stone coat of arms was placed at the entrance to the building. According to a 1734 document, works to the monastery started after its foundation.

1541 – Monks move to the monastery

1755 – The building is severely damaged by the earthquake forcing its residents to move to the Igreja de Corpo Santo

1884 – With the church at the site being used for cork storage, a major fire on April 24 completely destroys its interior

1911 – With the site abandoned up to this date, it is finally acquired by João António Júdice Fialho, a local entrepreneur in the canning industry. He converts the building into a warehouse

20thC – Portimão Câmara tries to acquire the site but, up to this day, no agreement has been reached with the proprietors.

Source: Ministry of Culture/IGESPAR

For more information and to sign the petition, please go to http://www.peticaopublica.com/PeticaoVer.aspx?pi=P2012N19804

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