By Chris Graeme [email protected]
A unique 16th century convent in the heart of the Algarve’s historic Tavira has been saved from ruin by a redevelopment company.
The Convento das Bernardas, which lies on the edge of the town’s Salt Flats on the protected Ria Formosa Nature Reserve wetlands, is to be turned into 78 luxury apartments and villas ranging from studio flats to three-bedroom properties.
A project, conceived by Garvetur Properties and Entreposto Real Estate Management S.A. and designed by world-famous Portuguese architect Souta Moura, it involves the restoration and adaptation of the ruined and abandoned Bernardas Convent which was founded in 1509.
The convent, which is full of 500 years of history, was the largest religious order of its type in the Algarve and the only one in the entire region belonging to the Cistercian Order.
It was built on the Orders of Dom Manuel I as a way of expressing his gratitude for Portugal’s victory in Arzilia, North Africa, when the Moors abandoned the siege of the city.
For three centuries, the Bernardas Convent sheltered nuns not only from Tavira families but from all over the Algarve.
The sisters, who lived and worked in the convent, made a name for themselves by making egg-based sweets, caramels and religious icons.
The square floor plan of the building was typically Cistercian in design and had two cloisters and a church dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows.
But as was the case with many historic monuments and buildings in the Algarve, it was badly damaged during the 1755 earthquake, although the roughly-hewn Manueline doorway, located on the Church’s northern façade, survived the natural disaster and subsequent alterations and extensions carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In 1834, following the extinction of religious orders in Portugal, the convent was sold at public auction and was turned into a milling and steamed dough factory which, in turn, led to its current state of dilapidation.
At the project’s Lisbon presentation, at a seminar entitled ‘Urban Regeneration: A Secure Investment’, which highlighted how heritage and listed buildings could embrace the future while saving the past, Engineer Duarte Guerreiro, Director-General of Entreposto Real Estate Management, said that the development was mostly aimed at middle and upper middle class Portuguese residents and foreigners.
Jorge Botelho, President of Tavira Câmara, called Tavira a “land of culture” and said that the development was an important step in preserving the town’s architectural heritage.
Many of the Phoenician, Moorish and Medieval finds excavated from the site will be placed in a small museum integrated into the Convento das Bernardas complex which will be completed in the last quarter of 2011.
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