LAND+CITY+URBAN+SCAPE | 713 | VILA REAL DE SANTO ANTÓNIO | PORTUGAL | GOOGLE EARTH
The history of settlement in the region pre-dates the Pombalinan community of the 18th century. The coastline area of Vila Real was inhabited by Megalithic tribes who constructed beehive tombs in the around Nora, near Cacela. The Romans, and much later the Arabs, made the settlement of Cacela an important village during their occupation of the territory, constructing fortifications to protect them from invading bands.
In 1240, Paio Peres Correia, master of the military Order of Santiago established Cacela as his point of departure for the reconquest of the Algarve, during theReconquista. Small settlements were eventually established near the Cacela, including many medieval fishing villages, such as Santo António de Arenilha along the coast.
In the 17th century, the vila (town) of Santo António was an important frontier outpost, controlling commerce and developing the lucrative fishing grounds, there establishing canning and conservation industry. Vila Real de Santo António was a relatively recent community; the region was sparsely populated prior to its foundation and Cacela was the municipal seat of the existing municipality. For centuries, Castro Marim was the only large town guarding the border with Spain, and the settlements in the region were small and undefended. On 30 December 1773, during the reign of Joseph I, a royal decree ordering the creation of a new town at the tip of the Algarve. The impetus for this decision is unclear, but there was several justifications for enhancing the settlement of the region, which included: increasing the human presence near the Spanish border, to prevent any incursions; to better control duties charged on cross-border activity; to be better defend the region from a full scale attack; or to provoke Spain with a modern settlement that was easily seen from Ayamonte; or to simply rebuild the nearby town fishing village of Santo António de Arenilha and resettle its population. Santo António de Arenilha was destroyed by the same tsunami that was triggered by the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
Regardless, the settlement was erected at great speed for the time (in only two years) and completed in 1776 using the latest technologies. The Marquis of Pombal was responsible for its planning, designing the town in a Pombaline orthogonal grid, which he also used during the reconstruction of Lisbon. In a pioneering technique, entire buildings were prefabricated in areas outside the town, and then transported to their final destination to be assembled, which permitted a fast and methodical construction of the town. Along the river, the customhouses (Portuguese: Alfândega), was one of the first buildings to be completed during the Pombaline reconstruction, to house the offices of the Sociedades das Pescarias (fishing associations/societies), and dividing the settlement in two. Vila Real de Santo António thrived on the growth of the fishing industry, which included the processing of species of tunaand sardine.
The new “Royal Town” of Santo António (Portuguese: Vila Real de Santo António) soon became the seat of the municipality, stripping the once important town of Cacela from this status. Cacela had, in the intervening years, gone into a steady decline as a result of the 1755 earthquake and attacks fromEnglish pirates and privateers.
In 1886, it became the first city in the Algarve to have gas lighting installed.
As the fishing industry went into decline (around the 1960s), tourism quickly took over as the principal economic livelihood for many of its residents. The extensive stretches of sandy beaches attracted both national and international tourists, especially during the warm season. Monte Gordo is particularly visitor-oriented, counting with many hotels, bars and a casino.