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Thursday 23rd May, 2013
Loulé is a bustling, but historic market town, still bearing the remains of its Moorish occupiers. It lies inland from the coastal resorts of the Algarve, some 16 kilometres from Faro, and is one of the main producers of typically Algarvian souvenirs. Copperware, leather goods, cane furnishings and wood carvings are displayed for sale all over the town.
Loulé is also well known for its markets, in particular the Saturday morning gipsy market. This is so renowned that most Algarve resort hotels organise Saturday excursions to Loulé for those without their own transport. There is also a daily indoor market on the Praca da Republica. This is where the inhabitants of Loulé buy their supplies, so it’s an excellent place for self-catering tourists to shop for fresh meat, fish and vegetables.
Loulé town was built on the spur of a hill and was, until the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, surrounded by 940 m. of defensive walling. All that remains now are a few stretches of wall and 2 towers.
The 12th century castle survived the devastating earthquake, but only just. The exterior walls remain, together with three original towers but most of the town property from the same period was destroyed. The castle was built on an earlier Roman site, and within the ruins of the castle is the alcaidaria, the living quarters for the garrison commander, probably the best preserved area of the site. This building surrounds a small courtyard which houses the municipal museum. The museum provides an interesting insight into the role of Loulé castle in the 13th and 14th century. From the castle walls there are magnificent views over the town.
A little further on from the castle is the Convent of Espírito Santo Built in the 17th and 18th century, and extensively damaged in the Lisbon earthquake, the convent now houses the municipal art gallery and exhibits relating to Loulé’s textile industry. An original feature of interest is the orphans’ wheel, a revolving structure which allowed unwanted babies to left anonymously to be cared for by the convent authorities.
There are in total six buildings of religious significance in Loulé, as well as the historic castle, but through the advance of modern tourism, the town has developed to become a lively administrative center, with all the commerce one would expect from a town of this size and importance.
The streets are cobbled and down alleyways there are cafes, restaurants and shops, and plenty of squares and green spaces to sit and people-watch. The main street, the Avenida José da Costa Mealha is a busy area with gardens on either side with shady trees, benches and refreshment kiosks.
Loulé is the scene of a colorful carnival at the start of Lent. Visitors come from all over Portugal to join in the celebrations which are reminiscent of those that take place in Brazil. The center of the town is closed for the three days of the festival.