Tavira's history is there for all to see in its diverse architecture. The Romans built an arched bridge over the River Rio Gilao (although the one you see today is a 17th century reconstruction), and the 8th century Moorish castle looms high over this historic Algarve centre (although again this was largely rebuilt by Christians). Tavira's many churches were funded off the back of Portuguese wealth accumulated from the colonies, and baroque window and iron wrought balconies adorn old houses lining the banks of the River Gilao.
Popular as a history packed Algarve daytrip, Tavira today pulls in the tourist crowds. Other delights to attract include some delightful specialist shops, a central bustling square - Praca da Republica situated adjacent to the river and lined with bars and chic cafes, and Tavira's nearby crowning glory - the stunning beaches of Ilha Tavira. Festival time in Tavira is towards the end of June around the 23rd and 24th - sardines are rather popular during the Festa de Cidade. Tavira Tourist Information Centre, Rua da Galeria 9, Tavira, Algarve. Tel: 281 322 511.
Tavira on the East Algarve coast is of particular historic interest - the town is crammed with historic churches, a castle, an ancient Roman arched bridge, a tuna fish museum (the area is renowned for its fishing history/particularly for tuna), and the Galeria Palace on Rua Galeria in Tavira has frequent art exhibitions on display. (see the Tavira Guide weblink right for details).
Nearby Santa Luzia was thought for a time to have been the Roman Balsa settlement, but theory has moved on and this Roman settlement is now thought to have been more to the West at Luz de Tavira (not to be confused with Luz near Lagos!). The Romans however were responsible for building a 7 arch bridge across the River Gilao at Tavira, which improved access from Castro Marim (then Baesuris) and Faro (then Ossonoba). Today it's a pedestrian only bridge accessed just off Praca da Republica.
Tavira Castle was built by the Moors originally, who occupied the area in the 8th century, but it was largely rebuilt after the Christains reconquered the city. Tavira fell back into Christain hands however in 1239 and Moors settlers were segregated into a Moorish quarter just outside the town walls. Elevated to the position of city in 1520, Tavira boomed in the period of Portuguese discovery. Decline however followed the silting up of the port and the fading out of North African attempts to colonise. The port wasn't dredged until 1932. Hit by both the plague in 1645 and later the earthquake (although many buildings survived it in Tavira including the 16th century houses alongside the Gilao River), things picked up towards the late 18th century through carpet selling and the growing tuna fishing industry.
Today it's the tourist visitors that provide the main income for Tavira, and you can see why - it's a historic jewel on the Algarve, nicknamed the 'Venice of the Algarve' (there's a Venice of Gran Canaria too at Puerto Morgan!). Tavira more than deserves your time - relax in one of the many chic cafes and cafe bars here, many of which are around Praca da Republica with views of the river. Excellent specialist clothes shopping and arts and crafts here too - check the Tavira weblink right for listings of arts and crafts shops, and bars and resturants.
Take your pick of historic churches in Tavira. Gothic Igreja De Santa Maria Do Castelo just near the castle dates from the 13th century, albeit with extensive reworking after the 1755 earthquake. Inside you can view the tombs of Dom Paio Peres Correla and 7 Christian knights of the crusading Order of St James. These knights were murdered by the moors, a key instigator for the Christian counterattack and subsequent retaking of Tavira. (open daily from April until October, 10am to 12.30pm, 2pm to 6pm. And from November to March daily from 2pm to 6pm. Closed on public holidays. Entrance is Free.
Although originally Moorish, the castle remains you see today in Tavira date mostly from the 17th century rebuild (some of the walls though date from the reign of King Dinis (1261-1325). Fine views across Tavira and the River Gilao are to be had up here from the castle walls. A pretty garden sits within it.
Other old churches in Tavira include Igreja de Santiago dating from the 17th century, and wander across the square to the Convento da Nossa Senhora da Graca situated in what was the Jewish quarter of the town. This convent was founded in 1568, but the building dates fom the 18th century.
The Ponte Romana 7 arched bridge across the Rio Gilao is a 17th century reconstruction. Sedate and pedestrianised, there's usually a busker or two along here. Walk parallel to the river east towards the salt pans, then onto the local beaches of Quartro Aguas and Ilha de Tavira - the walk is around 2km.