From Phoenician Tavira to the Moors and the Christian Conquest

Tavira is one of the most attractive towns in the Algarve. Its origin dates back from around 2.000 BC, and during the Moorish occupation the fishing industry of this town was of great importance. In the XVIIth Century its port, located at the Gilão River, Tavira played a significant role shipping wine, salt and dried fish. After the earthquake in 1755 the town has been completely rebuilt with many fine XVIIIth Century buildings and 38 churches. The church of Santa Maria do Castelo has been erected on the site of a Mosque. It contains the tombs of D. Paio Peres Correia and the seven knights, who took the city from the Moors after his knights were killed.

The surrounding of Tavira are still very rural but slowly changing due to the growth of the tourism industry. The beach can only be reached by a ferryboat that takes the visitor to the sandy-bar island of Ilha de Tavira. To the east of Tavira the still traditional original village of Cacela Velha is overlooking the sea. This place was already used by the Phoenicians and later became the possession of the Knights of Santiago in 1240.

The Phoenicians

The known of the origin of Tavira dates back to the Late Bronze Age (1.000-800 BC). In the VIIIth century BC, Tavira becomes one of the first Phoenician settlements in the Iberian West. The Phoenicians establish here a colonial urban center with massive walls, and at least two temples, two harbours and a regular urban structure. The Phoenician Tavira exists until the end of VIth century BC, when is destroyed by violence.

It is thought its original name was “Baal Saphon”, a Phoenician Thunder and Sea god. This name will become later City of Balsa.

The Tartessian Period

After a century of abandon, the settlement grows bigger than ever, during the urban bloom that characterised the so called Tartessian Period. This second urban center, Tartessian Tavira, is also abandoned by the end of the IVth Century BC.

The main center moves then to nearby Cerro do Cavaco, a fortified hill occupied until the time of emperor August.


In the time of Cesar, the Romans create a new portuary town 7 Km from Tavira named Balsa. Balsa becomes a big town, in fact much bigger than Tavira, that grows, survives and decays, accompanying the destiny of the Roman Empire. When the Arabs conquer the Iberian Peninsula, in the VIIIth Century, Balsa is already extinct as a town.

During the Roman empire, Tavira is a secondary passing place of the important road between Balsa and Baesuris (today Castro Marim). A recent archaeological survey showed that the so called “roman bridge” is not Roman but descends instead of a XIIth Century Moorish bridge.

The Moors

Like the whole Algarve, Tavira becomes part of the Califat of Córdoba in 711. All the area stays rural until the 11th Century when Moorish Tavira (from the arab Tabira, “the hidden”) starts to grows at a quick pace, becoming one of the important (and independent) towns of Algarve, then the South-Western extreme of Gharb al-Andalus (the West of Islamic Iberian territories).

The Christian Conquest

D. Paio Peres Correia took Tavira from the Moors in 1242 after seven of his principal Knights were killed during a period of truce. Major parts of the town were destroyed, and the mosque replaced by the Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo. In 1415 the Portuguese start conquering Ceuta from here.

In the XVIIth Century the port of Tavira was of considerable importance, shipping produce such as salt, dried fish and wine. Like most of the Algarve, its buildings were all destroyed by the earthquake of 1755.

XVII century – today

Tavira has since been rebuilt with many fine XVIIIth Century buildings along with its 38 churches. A Roman bridge links the two parts of the town across the Gilão river. The church of Santa Maria do Castelo is built on the site of a Moorish Mosque and in it are the tombs of D. Paio Peres Correia and his seven Knights. Its original economic reliance on the fishing industry has now been surpassed due to the change in the migration patterns of tuna fish. The population in the region is of about 20,000 inhabitants supporting a military base whilst the surrounding area is still very rural. This is now changing, and due to the demands of the tourist industry golf courses opened in around the Parish. Tavira island lies past the salt pans and is reached by a ferryboat that takes the visitor to the sandy-bar island known as Ilha de Tavira.