The Farm Houses of the Sotavento

In the rural world of the mountain and coastline, like in most of the Mediterranean, people live in communities and in mutual cooperation, giving rise to compact settlements in the mountain and more scattered settlements along the coastline. The first type, on the mountain, is mainly expressed through population in small settlements, called “montes”, or larger ones called villages (aldeias). The second type, on the shoreline, is expressed through isolated houses located at the edge of the towns or cities.

Tavira Farm House

These two types of population result from two specific types of ownership and different production systems which, in turn, lead to different forms of integration in the landscape. On the mountain, the settlements mainly correspond to a highly cut up tenure system, with the exception of few larger estates which chiefly belong to wealthy landowners. On the shoreline, where the settlements are more scattered, to each lot usually corresponds a single family house, in support to the estate.

In any case, the implantation of the farm houses and other buildings, whether it is on the mountain or on the shoreline, is directly related to the characteristics of the territory that is explored and on which it is based, the determining location factors being the slope, the orientation, the climate, the soil, the structure of the estate and the socioeconomic conditions of the place.

The traditional rural mountain architecture is, just as on the coastline, a projection of the territory where it has been situated and an indisputable architectonic evidence of the landscape.

As a general rule, the location of a farmhouse or village implied the existence of a number of prerequisites. The closeness to a brook was essential to the survival of the occupants, the water being used for human and animal consumption and for irrigation of the vegetable plots. The vegetable plots were located, with very few exceptions, next to the brook, in the fertile areas where earth had been deposited, while the houses were located further up, on sterile ground and on rock, on top of the hill. It is customary that such elevations are surrounded by other bigger ones, thus protecting the agglomeration of houses from the strong and cold winter winds.

Although it is not always obvious, you can see a certain logic in the location of the different functional valences of each farmhouse, particularly in the case of the smaller ones. In this way and taking as a representative example the Beliche de Cima farmhouse, on the Tavira Mountain, one can see that the houses have been built on the higher end of the agglomeration, with the rocky outcrop as a supporting base for the walls, thus keeping them dry and far from the waterlines. On a landing located further down you will find the barns and the arbours for the animals, which manure, used as fertilizer, is deposited on dunghills placed further down, very close to the vegetable plots that are located next to the brook. The pigpens have been sited more out of the way, thus sparing the village from the unpleasant odour. The hierarchy and functional organization of the implantation of this village is therefore very obvious, showing great intelligence in the utilisation and rationalisation of the space and of the existing resources.

In the larger nuclei, this organisation is not so perceivable and the different functions that initially emerge separated in small sub-nuclei, get more blended as the agglomeration grows, giving rise to more complex settlements.