By LYNNE BOOKER
Situated in the parish of Mexilhoeira Grande, between Portimão and Lagos, the Roman villa of Abicada presents an impressive sight when viewed on Google Earth, but much less so when viewed through the fence. The remains of the low walls are masked by the abundant vegetation. This site appears to be uncared for and abandoned. But this story is both incomplete and incorrect.
The site of the Roman house has been a National Monument since 1940 and is owned by the Government of Portugal, and the Regional Directorate of Culture is in charge locally.
The Câmara of Portimão and its museum is heavily involved in its safeguarding and maintenance. It is not true that the site is not cared for, although it has been vandalised.
Only a rectangle of 80 by 30 metres is owned by the state, and it is properly fenced off. The rest of the property is privately owned, and its owners are keen to develop the site for a tourist development.
Nowadays, this classified national monument has no mosaics at all. They have been carefully removed by staff of Palimpsesto, a company working on behalf of the Regional Directorate of Culture and Portimão Museum. Because the mosaics were suffering from the weather and from vandalism, it was decided to remove them completely from the site, with the aim of recovering them and putting them on public display.
A worthy aim depending only on the availability of adequate funds for the work, funds which are not yet available. The removal was done in 2010 and 2011.
Other recuperative works were to build a concrete support wall, since the whole of the edifice was in danger of slipping downhill; drainage to take away the water which threatened to destabilise the site; and the reinforcement of a number of the less stable Roman walls.
Together with the removal of the mosaics, these works have cost €120,000. But the creation of an interpretative centre and a shelter for the site as a whole will cost much more.
This villa was originally built in the first century BCE, and was used until the fourth century CE. The villa must have been a centre of agricultural produce, and because it also had a quay on the Alvor River, perhaps it was also a fishing centre. It was the home of a rich landowner who chose to decorate his house with extensive mosaic work, mosaics which are detailed and attractive, but were certainly not located and stuck down in the accepted best fashion.
Eduardo Porfírio of the Palimpsesto company explained that the original builders had not seated the mosaics on a bed of mortar as usual, but direct onto the clay floor of the house. This clay floor also opened large cracks in dry weather, making necessary the works of recuperation already begun.
When Dr Formesinho had first uncovered the mosaics, he had of course disturbed their peaceful inhumation, and as from 1940 they had been subject to progressive deterioration from the elements. The villa is a notable construction because of its extensive mosaics, the biggest single collection in the Algarve.
Now that the mosaics are in Portimão Museum, what will happen to them? The idea of the Director of the Museum, José Gameiro, is to put them on exhibition together with an explanation of Roman daily life in the Lusitanian province of the Empire. He guaranteed that one day of course the restored mosaics will have to return to their position on the site.
Lynne Booker is co-founder, along with her husband Peter, of the Algarve History Association