Lagos is an ancient maritime town with more than 2.000 years of history. The name Lagos comes from a Celtic settlement, derived from the Latin Lacobriga.
Phenicians, Carthaginians and also Romans passed there, mainly because of the natural and exceptional conditions of its harbour. By the end of the Roman Empire, Lagos was occupied in the 6th century by the Visigoths. The Moors conquered the region in the 8th century and Lagos became part of the largest coastal region of al-Gharb. The Moors fortified the town with a castle and established important trade links to Northern Africa from their bases in the Iberian peninsula. In 1174, the local Wali gave permission for the Christians to built a church dedicated to São João Baptista.
Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, advanced far to the South but never reached the Algarve. The city of Lagos was eventually captured by King Afonso III of Portugal in 1241, but was only taken definitively in 1249. In 1361 Lagos became an independent jurisdiction under the rule of King Peter I.
King John I assembled his fleet in the harbour of Lagos, before setting sail for the siege, and conquered the city of Ceuta in 1415. This was the first step in opening the Muslim world to medieval Europe, which in fact led to the Age of Discovery with Portuguese explorers sailing across the whole world. By the 15th century, Lagos became the centre of Portuguese maritime exploration, with ships ordered south to trace the shoreline of Africa in order to find routes to India. The tradition says that Infante Henry the Navigator, third son of King John, lived most of the time in Lagos. From there he directed expeditions to Morocco and to the western coast of Africa with caravels, lateen-rigged ships with excellent seafaring capabilities. Lagos was also the home port for Gil Eanes who was the first to sail beyond Cape Bojador in 1434. The act of rounding the Cape, much like the later rounding of the Cape of Good Hope, permitted Eanes (and the following navigators) to advance into the African subcontinent. When by 1443, Lançarote (then fiscal officer of the crown) had sailed as far as Arguim and brought back 275 Africans, the Portuguese had sufficient slaves to relieve the perpetual handicap of agricultural labour.
Over the following decades, many news emerged about the discoveries, achievements and ships loaded with spices and goods which flowed into the port of Lagos. It was also the gateway for the first African slaves into post-medieval Europe. Even before Africa was opened-up to the Portuguese, the seamen of Lagos were already enthusiastic slave-catchers. From the first slave markets in Lagos (the Mercado de Escravos opened in 1444), many Africans were dispersed throughout Europe, bringing a considerable income to the Portuguese monarchy and merchant classes, as well as cheap labour force.
Following the death of Prince Henry, and the expansion into the Atlantic and New World, the port of Lagos continued to receive shipments of goods and slaves, but its role began to decrease. Lisbon began to prosper, with ships returning directly from the colonies of the Azores, Madeira and Brazil, while trading houses began to relocate to the capital. However, even as the wealth arrived in Lisbon and Lagos, the ostentation was widely on display in the royal residences.
King Sebastian, obsessed with his plans for a great crusade against the Kingdom of Fez, assembled a huge fleet in Lagos in 1578. During this ill-fated attempt, he and most of Portugal's nobility were killed in the Battle of Ksar El Kebir in Morocco, causing a succession crisis that eventually resulted in the Iberian Union.
When Portugal came under the Spanish rule, the Portuguese coast became a target for the English fleet. Lagos, close to the Spanish naval base of Cádiz, was attacked by Sir Francis Drake in the late 1580s, but was defended by its inhabitants, resulting in Drakes sack of Faro. Nevertheless, the coast was under regular attack of other pirates and corsairs, in addition to the Spanish who bombarded the Algarve during the Portuguese Restoration War (1640–1668), which led to the construction of a string of forts all along the coast. One of them was the late-17th-century Ponta da Bandeira Fort in Lagos, which was completed between 1679 and 1690 (according to the stone inscription over the main door).
From 1576 to 1755, Lagos was a high-profile capital of the Algarve, until the old Portuguese town was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of 1755. Although some walls from the 16th century still remain, as well as the governor's castle, many of the buildings are from the 17th century.
In modern times, the region of Lagos became essentially agricultural and devoted to fisheries until the tourism sector invaded the southern areas of Europe. Tourism, both national and from abroad, brought a new source of income to the locals and structural changes began in the late 1960s. Till today tourism is one of the major activities in the region.
The older part of Lagos is still circled by the city walls that were constructed during the 16th century when it was the residence of the governors of the Algarve. However, parts of the medieval town walls were restored and are visible in their south section. They extend intermittently, with at least six bastions, for about 1.5km around the central town.
The slave market
Lagos’ slave market, built in 1444, was Europe’s first slave market. It was here during the 15th century where the first slaves, captured and transported from Africa, were sold. Many Africans were dispersed throughout Europe, bringing a considerable income to the Portuguese monarchy and merchant classes, as well as a cheap labour force. As the major sponsor of these expeditions, Prince Henry the Navigator (who’s statue appears on the square) received one fifth of the selling price of the slaves. The demand for the indentured labour force was so high that, by 1450, profit on Mauritanian slaves was 700 percent. Currently, the building holds a museum with ancient findings and shelters initiatives of a cultural character.
Ponta da Bandeira Fort
The Ponta da Bandeira Fort, also known as the Lady of Penha of France Fort, was built in the 17th century and reinforces the preoccupation that Lagos, capital of the Algarvian region between 1576 and 1765, dedicated to the defence against pirates that robbed what the natives worked so hard for. Inside the fort, there is museum devoted to the gest of the Portuguese Discoveries, where documentary indications, referring to the theme, are displayed.
The Governor's Castle
The Governor’s castle is classified as a National Monument and dates back to the time of Arab domination. According to the chronicles, a castle-like fortification once existed at this place. The current structure possesses a strong symbolism, mainly due to the manueline window where the King El-rei D. Sebastião had attended his last mass on Portuguese territory, before leaving in 1579 to the campaign of North Africa.
Infante Henry Square
The square next to the Governors' castle is the Praça Infante Dom Henrique with a statue of Prince Henry looking out to the sea. To the left of the square at the back is Saint Mary Church. The facade of this church is 15/16th century but it was rebuilt in the 18/19th centuries.
Gil Eanes statue
The statue of Gil Eanes is located in the Garden of the Constitution. It was designed by Canto da Maia and is a tribute to the navigator who in 1434 doubled the Cape Bojador. The Navigator’s statue is situated next to a barrel containing a makeshift vase plant, symbol of the discovery of land beyond Cape Bojador.
Ponta da Piedade and Camilo Beach
From the Ponta da Piedade (in front of the lighthouse), there is a fantastic view of the sweeping sands of Lagos bay with the Monchique hills as a backdrop, and it’s possible to see all the way to Sagres to the west and past Albufeira to the east. It’s curious and fabulous the spectacular rocky levelling of limestone and sandstone whit all its colours and forms of refined beauty, sculpted by the force of the sea.
Camilo is a small beach between cliffs, with interesting rock formations and whose shape resembles a shell. Its waters are clear and calm, it is a guarded beach with good bathing conditions. Arriving at the viewpoint, the road of Ponta da Piedade, the beach access is via a long and renewed staircase.
"Banho do 29" Festival
The Batata Beach, in the heart of Lagos and surrounded by diverse pleasure equipment, is the scenery for one of the most genuine and traditional manifestations of the area – Banho do 29, popular festival that takes place annually on the 29th of August. Year after year, the ritual is passed on from parents to children. Guitars played around the improvised fire, in the company of smoked sausage and many stories told until the clock strikes midnight, the exact time for a dip in the warm waters of the Atlantic.
Sweet Art Fair (Feira da Arte Doce)
It is a competition of Sweet Art, which already acquired a prominent status in the Algarve summer, attracting annually to the city of Lagos many visitors and tourists, curious to prove or just enjoy the delicacies on display. The fair includes the real "works of sweet art", which are worthy to occupy a prestigious place in any gallery, the variety of traditional sweets and other regional products, as well as handicrafts, local associations, and a diverse musical and entertainment program throughout the event.
Over the previous editions, which the first dates back to 1986, the municipality has sought to contribute to the preservation and revitalization of one of the most genuine and appreciated traditions in the region: the desserts especially based on almond and fig. Organized by the City Council, the Sweet Art Fair is held annually on the last weekend of July.
The sea is a source of wealth for the Algarve cuisine. There is no lack of imagination for making the most varied dishes of fish, shellfish and seafood. There are many fish specialties such as fish stews (cataplana), dry eggs of octopus, fried moray, stuffed squid, anchovies in vinegar, roasted squid and octopus on a small cooker, corn pap with shells (papas de milho com conquilhas), mackerel in lime and also diverse grilled fish.
Regarding meat specialties, some examples are the boiled of grain, the boiled of corn, pork with clams and beans from the Algarve and also stewed chicken giblets.
Poetic and legendary, the almond tree is the protagonist in the Algarve confectionery. Lagos’ sweets are known by the fragile miniature almonds in the form of fruits, flowers and animals, the fig sweets and yet the Morgado (made with figs and almonds). Also, the refine and famous Dom Rodrigos are must-taste delicacies made of almond, protected by a silver coloured casing.
In relation to wine, red wine is produced in the area and has a unique mild taste, warm and fruity aroma. The white wine is delicate and mild. Here are some ideas to accompany the appealing regional food.