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Tavira’s towering roof tops

The history of Tavira is exemplified by its extraordinary ‘roof-scape’. Realistically captured on canvas by Juli-Anne Coward, her paintings are displayed at Galeria Côrte-Real in Paderne.
Tavira consists of a conglomeration of buildings, many of them sheltered beneath terracotta tiles with ornate balustrades and balconies and a huge variety of church spires. Adding to the urban clutter are recently installed water tanks, air-conditioning units and solar panels.
Using a distinctive modern style, Juli faithfully recreates these unique buildings that span a period of almost 500 years. Remarkably some of them withstood Europe’s strongest earthquake which took place off the Algarve’s west coast in 1755.
It is the construction of hipped-roofs which singles out Tavira from every other town in the Algarve. Many of the houses have no gable or flat end as all four sides of the roof slope downwards; in some cases this creates a pyramid-like effect.
Known locally as ‘Telhados de Quatro Águas’ – roofs of four waters – no one is certain why this style evolved or became so popular.
Given that such roofs are difficult to construct – requiring a complex system of rafters and trusses – there must have been some practical advantages.
There is speculation that having four-pitched sides allowed torrential winter rain to pour off more efficiently but given that some of Tavira’s hipped-roofs are more like pagodas – curving slightly upwards at their ends – this theory seems unlikely.
It may simply be that aesthetically they were found to be more pleasing, with an overall appearance of such a ‘roof-scape’ that is slightly oriental.
Far from oriental, the terracotta tiles that cover most of Tavira’s rooftops are Moorish in origin.
‘Telha de canudo’ or tubular tiles are made from red clay that has been molded into half cylinder shapes. Traditionally this was done on the lower thigh of the tile maker. Once fired in a kiln, the finished tiles are laid to overlap each other.
Many of Tavira’s houses are topped with an ornate chimney pot. As travel writer David Evans pointed out: “You don’t have to be Santa Claus to get a kick out of Portugal’s chimneys!” These filigree flues are perfectly replicated in Juli’s paintings!
Over the centuries, Tavira has experienced huge prosperity as a shipping port and as an important centre for tuna fishing. Grand houses and more than 20 churches reflect the town’s illustrious past. The silting up of the River Gilão and the changing habits of the tuna shoals eventually lead to Tavira’s commercial demise.
What is left behind enchanted Juli when she first visited earlier this year. Her paintings successfully sum up the town’s current vibrant atmosphere by looking at its architecture – past and present day.
Charmed in equal measure by Juli’s paintings and Tavira, the owners of Côrte-Real feature a selection of her latest pictures at the gallery.
Galeria Côrte-Real is Juli’s sole representative in Portugal and she is a regular participant at London’s prestigious Affordable Art Fairs.
Galeria Côrte-Real is signposted from Boliqueime, Ferreiras and Paderne and is open Thursday to Sunday, from 11am until 5pm.
912 737 762
Photo: Painted by Artist in Residence at Galeria Côrte-Real, Juli-Anne Coward