|Inhabited since Prehistory and self-governing since the XIVth century, Sines was a mainly fishers' and summer tourists' town until the 1970's. Since then has become a major industrial port in Portugal and will have, in the next few years, one of the biggest hub ports in Europe.
Sines and its Cape bear traces of the presence of mankind since pre-historic times. Romans, Visigoths and Moors passed through here during the past 2000 years. An ancient fishing village, Sines was taken by the Christians between the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries, and was then entrusted to the Order of Santiago and the Sword in 1217.
By order of King Pedro I it was granted royal charter in 1362. Around 1469, Vasco da Gama was born in Sines, one of the great figures of Portuguese and European history. He it was who discovered the maritime route to India in 1498. On July 1st 1469 a new charter was granted to the town, this time by King Manuel I. Extinguished during the 19th century, the municipality of Sines was restored in 1914.
The following decades saw moderate growth based on fishing an on the canning industry and, during the summer months, as a seaside resort. During the 1970s a port and industrial complex were built, driving Sines towards the future, though it did not lose many of its traditional features as a fishing town and pleasant beach resort.
This is a different Alentejo, a maritime one. To the south of Sines vast, sun-drenched beaches stretch out, including Sao Torpes, Morgavel, Vieirinha, Samouqueira, Porto Covo and Ilha.
Besides the sea and the sun, you can also rely on several restaurants to delight you with the marvellous fish of these waters. Porto Covo is an enchanting fishermen's village, its geo- metric square and regular white houses with their blue bands constituting living evidence of the vernacular architecture of the 18th century. Another marvel, lying off some small beaches of fine white sand lying between colourful cliffs, is Pessegueiro Island.
Used as a port and as an industrial centre by the Romans, it is linked to the creation of the village itself, which was founded on the assumption that a great port would be built in the channel. A place of rest and nesting for several species of birds, some threatened with extinction, the island also has an ample beach, an ideal spot from which to contemplate all this beauty.
An area of imposing scale and views, where the rocks, the sea and the sky seem to come together in a splendid show of light and colour. Good conditions for angling, with an abundance of sea bass, sargo breams, grey mullet and sea bream.
SAO TORPES BEACH
An excellent beach with its fine, white sand stretching several kilometres. The focus here is on the various angling sites and on the surf school that gives lessons in surf, bodyboard and windsurf to people of every age around the year.
A spot of considerable interest, for both its landscape and its history. Several structures have been uncovered that bear witness to its use by the Romans. You can visit the island by boat during the summer.
An old fishing village that has become a summer resort, with its display of one of the marvels of popular Portuguese architecture: its main square dating back to the 18th century. Its lovely cliffs are also to be admired, overlooking a number of beautiful beaches with their transparent water.
The area to the south of Sines is part of the Southwest Alentejan and Vicentine Coast Nature Park, designed to preserve the qualities of a landscape that is unique in Europe, still in an almost wild state in some parts.
Porto Covo is a fishing village, with its typical houses provided with fine views out to sea. The main square takes one back in time to the 18th century, presenting an example of the Portuguese vernacular architecture of those days. A stay in one of these small characteristic cottages is very agreeable, enjoying the tranquillity of the marvellous of beaches nestling among the cliffs.
These beaches with their clear waters and fine, white sand seduce visitors to this part of the world. Abundant in fish, they are also a delight for windsurfing, boating and angling. The point of arrival to enjoy the pleasures of the beach, Porto Covo can also be the point of departure for an exploration of the hinterland. There are companies that organise environmental excursions that can help you to experience Porto Covo and the rest of the municipality in an active way.
It is though that the Carthaginians settled on the island even before the Second Punic War (218-202 BC). During Roman times it was a thriving port and fish-preserving centre. Traces of these activities can still be seen.
A pirate refuge during centuries, Pessegueiro Island came to need protection against these sea-wolves and Filipe III ordered the construction of the first fort in 1603. However, the fort was unable to withstand the attacks and, towards the end of the 17th century, King Pedro II ordered to construction of a new one, with a garrison of 30 men and five cannon.
To prevent attacks from the mainland, another fort was built, called the "inner island" fort now abandoned. Its moat can still be seen and the walls are almost intact. Its ample terrace provides a fine view of Pessegueiro Island, the beach and the rocks protecting Porto Covo.
Legend has it that D. Vetaca, the granddaughter of Theodore Laskaris the Younger, emperor of Nicaea, founded the chapel of Nossa Senhora das Salas. She was lady-in-waiting to Queen Saint Isabel and had married a Portuguese, though she was soon widowed and donated a large sum of money to the Order of Santiago.
In gratitude, the order granted D. Vetaca the lands of the town of Santiago do Cacem. She fell in love with these parts and went to live at Sines. Here she ordered the construction of the chapel of the lady of Salas in 1336.
The festival that is now held every year on August 14th and 15th, dedicated to the lady of Salas, begins with a candlelit procession by night from the parish church to the chapel. On the 15th, an outdoor mass is said and, in the after- noon, there is a procession to the dock where bedecked boats carry the image around the bay of Sines.
WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL
The World Music Festival, organised by the Sines Town Council since 1999, is the year's most important cultural event in Sines and one of the most important of its kind in the country. Held every year during the last weekend of July, against the historic background of the castle, the festival brings together top names of the world music circuit, jazz and blues.
With a programme and an atmosphere that allow audiences of all kinds to come together to enjoy great music, the festival is at one and the same time for the young and for the family. Names such as Kronos Quartet, Hedningarna, The Skatalites or Taraf de Haidouks have already performed here, and the quality of the World Music Festival has been recognised by the national and foreign press.
THE SEA AND GASTRONOMY
The sea makes its mark and is almost predominant, for this is the land that saw the birth of Vasco da Gama, the discoverer of the maritime route to India. The big fishing harbour is always busy with its colourful trawlers laden with fresh fish and shellfish.
As a result of this abundance, the local food is famous for its fish stews, whelk and beans, and the many ways of preparing the delicious seafood. At the beginning of summer the municipality holds a food festival at the Fishing Port in Sines, where local and regional restaurants and eateries set up stalls.
A visit to the town can be based on the monuments linked to the life of its most important son, Vasco da Gama. The route begins at the Castle, where he spent his child- hood, and where many historians suggest he was born. Standing by the castle is the Parish Church where he was ordained.
It is an elegant church, rebuilt during the 18th century, with beautiful altars and good Baroque painting. To the south of the church is the statue of the navigator, staring out over the best view of the bay. From here, set off to the west, through the bright streets, with their fine miradors over- looking the sea and the historic centre, till you reach the Nossa Senhora das Salas Chapel.
Vasco da Gama caused it to be rebuilt -as attested by two tablets next to the Manueline door -it was the place of worship favoured by him and his family. Inside, the outstanding feature is the panel of 18th century azulejos (tiles) depicting scenes of the life of Mary.