Vila Real de Santo António

Vila Real de Santo António[1] is a city, civil parish, and municipality in the Algarve, Portugal.[2] The population in 2011 was 19,156,[3] in an area of 61.25 km².[4] It is one of the few municipalities in Portugal without territorial continuity: its territory comprises two parts, with the municipal seat located in the eastern part. Both the city and the municipality are the southeasternmost of Portugal. Vila Real de Santo António was founded after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, and largely expanded in 1774 using the same architectural and construction techniques employed in the reconstruction of Lisbon after the disaster.

The city is situated next to the Guadiana river. Before the construction of the Guadiana International Bridge (in its neighboring upstream municipality of Castro Marim) it used to be the easiest access to Portugal from Andalusia (via ferry from the Spanish city of Ayamonte across the river). Nevertheless, international movement of people and goods is still intense and much visible in the city.

Vila Real de Santo António
The main square
The main square
Flag of Vila Real de Santo António

Coat of arms of Vila Real de Santo António

Coat of arms
Coordinates: 37°11′38″N 7°24′57″W / 37.19389°N 7.41583°WCoordinates: 37°11′38″N 7°24′57″W / 37.19389°N 7.41583°W
Country Portugal
Intermunic. comm.Algarve
 • PresidentLuís Filipe Soromenho Gomes (PPD-PSD)
 • Total61.25 km2 (23.65 sq mi)
 • Total19,156
 • Density310/km2 (810/sq mi)
Time zoneWET/WEST (UTC+0/+1)
Postal code
Area code281
PatronNossa Senhora da Encarnação


VRSA Center
The main square in the parish of Vila Real de Santo António

The history of settlement in the region pre-dates the Pombalinan community of the 18th century. The coastline area of Vila Real was inhabited by Megalithic tribes who constructed beehive tombs in the around Nora, near Cacela. The Romans, and much later the Arabs, made the settlement of Cacela an important village during their occupation of the territory, constructing fortifications to protect them from invading bands.

In 1240, Paio Peres Correia, master of the military Order of Santiago established Cacela as his point of departure for the reconquest of the Algarve, during the Reconquista. Small settlements were eventually established near the Cacela, including many medieval fishing villages, such as Santo António de Arenilha along the coast.

In the 17th century, the vila (town) of Santo António was an important frontier outpost, controlling commerce and developing the lucrative fishing grounds, there establishing canning and conservation industry. Vila Real de Santo António was a relatively recent community; the region was sparsely populated prior to its foundation and Cacela was the municipal seat of the existing municipality. For centuries, Castro Marim was the only large town guarding the border with Spain, and the settlements in the region were small and undefended. On 30 December 1773, during the reign of Joseph I, a royal decree ordering the creation of a new town at the tip of the Algarve. The impetus for this decision is unclear, but there was several justifications for enhancing the settlement of the region, which included: increasing the human presence near the Spanish border, to prevent any incursions; to better control duties charged on cross-border activity; to be better defend the region from a full-scale attack; or to provoke Spain with a modern settlement that was easily seen from Ayamonte; or to simply rebuild the nearby town fishing village of Santo António de Arenilha and resettle its population. Santo António de Arenilha was destroyed by the same tsunami that was triggered by the devastating 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

Regardless, the settlement was erected at great speed for the time (in only two years) and completed in 1776 using the latest technologies. The Marquis of Pombal was responsible for its planning, designing the town in a Pombaline orthogonal grid, which he also used during the reconstruction of Lisbon. In a pioneering technique, entire buildings were prefabricated in areas outside the town, and then transported to their final destination to be assembled, which permitted a fast and methodical construction of the town. Along the river, the customhouses (Portuguese: Alfândega), was one of the first buildings to be completed during the Pombaline reconstruction, to house the offices of the Sociedades das Pescarias (fishing associations/societies), and dividing the settlement in two. Vila Real de Santo António thrived on the growth of the fishing industry, which included the processing of species of tuna and sardine.

The new "Royal Town" of Santo António (Portuguese: Vila Real de Santo António) soon became the seat of the municipality, stripping the once important town of Cacela from this status. Cacela had, in the intervening years, gone into a steady decline as a result of the 1755 earthquake and attacks from English pirates and privateers.

In 1886, it became the first city in the Algarve to have gas lighting installed.

As the fishing industry went into decline (around the 1960s), tourism quickly took over as the principal economic livelihood for many of its residents. The extensive stretches of sandy beaches attracted both national and international tourists, especially during the warm season. Monte Gordo is particularly visitor-oriented, counting with many hotels, bars and a casino.


Physical geography

Guadiana Mouth
The mouth of the Guadiana river and the city of Vila Real de Santo António (center). Also Monte Gordo (left), Castro Marim (upper center), Ayamonte (upper right) and Isla Canela (lower right)

The municipality is bordered to the north by the municipality of Castro Marim and to the west by the municipality of Tavira. It fronts the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and the Guadiana River to the east, along with its frontier border with the Andalusian municipality of Ayamonte (Spain). Due to its Atlantic frontage, the municipality has several kilometers of continuous sandy beaches.

The topography of the municipality is diverse. Marshes are common, especially north of the city where a section of the salty wetlands became the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve (established in 1975, this was continental Portugal's first nature reserve). Woodlands cover the planar civil parishes of Vila Real de Santo António and Monte Gordo, while in Vila Nova de Cacela, barren lands and schist hills are more predominant. The easternmost part of the Ria Formosa system of lagoons is located in this civil parish.

Ecoregions/Protected areas

The establishment, in 1975, of the Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve provided a refuge for several species of migratory and marine birds, namely mallards, flamingos, Kentish plovers, little terns, pied avocets, dunlins, stilts, white storks, and spoonbills, while at the same time protecting breeding grounds for local fish and crustaceans. Chameleons, oysters, and jellyfish (of the genus Rhopilema) are among the species that can be found in the region and its coastal waters, while carob trees, gum rockrose, brooms and almond trees mingle within the forests and brush within the interior.


The climate of the region is Mediterranean: winters are short and mild, while summers are usually very hot. November and December are the rainiest months, although on average, the municipality has around 300 sunny days a year.

Human geography

The distribution of Vila Real de Santo António, showing (from left to right): Vila Nova de Cacela, Monte Gordo and Vila Real do Santo António parishes
Population of
Vila Real de Santo António
(1801 - 2011)
1801 2,112—    
1849 3,953+87.2%
1900 9,817+148.3%
1930 12,313+25.4%
1960 14,999+21.8%
1981 16,347+9.0%
1991 14,400−11.9%
2001 17,956+24.7%
2004 18,158+1.1%
2011 19,156+5.5%

Vila Real de Santo António is one of the most densely populated municipalities of the Algarve, with a population density above the national average. Administratively, the municipality is divided into 3 civil parishes (freguesias):[5]

  • Vila Real de Santo António - this civil parish contains the city of Vila Real de Santo António which in turn is the seat of the municipality;
  • Monte Gordo - the civil parish includes the seaside town and tourist resort of Monte Gordo, which is located less than three kilometers from the city of Vila Real de Santo António and separated by a large section of woodland.
  • Vila Nova de Cacela - this civil parish is a (rare) exclave of Portugal; it is separated from the other two civil parishes by the parishes of Altura and Castro Marim (both comprising the municipality of Castro Marim), effectively splitting Cacela from the rest of the municipality. The town of Vila Nova de Cacela was formed in 1927 when the seat of the civil parish was transferred from Cacela Velha (then known as simply "Cacela") to a new urban agglomeration formed by the villages of Bornacha, Buraco and Coutada. The town and popular seaside resort of Manta Rota is located in this civil parish, next to Cacela Island (which is actually a peninsula).


Tuna and sardine fisheries continue to be important to the economy of the region. However, the fish industry went into decline in the 1960s and tourism quickly took over as the economic engine of the municipality, attracting both national and international tourists, especially during the warm season. The teritary sector, particularly administration/government services and support industries are concentrated in the parish of Vila Real. It is common for inhabitants to commute to Spain for work in the Ayamonte area.


Vila Real de Santo António station is the eastern terminus of the railway from Faro and Lagos. The Portuguese Railways operate a direct train service (using Diesel multiple units) to Lagos with connections to mainline electric trains at Faro.

The municipality's close proximity to the main A22 roadway enables easy access west, to other parts of the country, or into Spain. Despite the opening of the Guadiana International Bridge in 1991, the small car ferry across the river still operates.


VRSA street
António Aleixo Cultural Center

Several artists were born and/or worked in Vila Real de Santo António, providing a rich heritage in literature and visual arts. The native poet António Aleixo was particularly prominent. Xylographer Manuel Cabanas stood out in the city's artistic panorama and was a fierce opponent of the Portuguese dictatorship.


The Vila Real Complexo Desportivo is a centre for national- and international-level high-performance training camps, with several sporting clubs using it for athletic preparation. Located near the town of Monte Gordo, it is situated near other sporting facilities and lodgings.


  1. ^ (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈvilɐ ʁiˈaɫ ðɨ ˈsɐ̃tu ɐ̃ˈtɔniu], often run together as [ˈvilɐ ʁiˈaɫ dɨ sɐ̃tɐ̃ˈtɔnju])
  2. ^ Detail Regional Map, Algarve- Southern Portugal, ISBN 3-8297-6235-6
  3. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estatística
  4. ^ "Áreas das freguesias, concelhos, distritos e país". Archived from the original on 2018-11-05. Retrieved 2018-11-05.
  5. ^ Diário da República. "Law nr. 11-A/2013, page 552 137" (pdf) (in Portuguese). Retrieved 5 August 2014.

External links

Municipality of Faro District (Algarve)

Map of the Greater Metropolitan Area of the Algarve

Castro Marim
São Brás de Alportel
Silves (Portugal)
Vila do Bispo
Vila Real de Santo António
Albufeira Alcoutim Aljezur Castro Marim Faro Lagoa Lagos Loulé Monchique Olhão Portimão São Brás de Alportel Silves Tavira Vila do Bispo Vila Real de Santo António
2009 Guadiana Trophy

The 2009 Guadiana Trophy competition has taken place between 16-18 July 2009 and featured Benfica, Olhanense, Athletic Bilbao and Anderlecht. Benfica won in the final against Olhanense.

Amaro Antunes

Amaro Manuel Raposo Antunes (born 27 November 1990) is a Portuguese cyclist, who currently rides for UCI WorldTeam CCC Team. In May 2019, he was named in the startlist for the 2019 Giro d'Italia.

António Rosa Mendes

António Rosa Mendes (1954–2013) was born in Vila Nova de Cacela, Portugal. He was a professor of history at the Algarve University (Portuguese: Universidade do Algarve).In the year of 2005 he was the president of the Portuguese Cultural Capital in Faro.

Cacela Velha

Cacela Velha (meaning "Old Cacela" in Portuguese) is a village located in the civil parish of Vila Nova de Cacela, municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, Algarve, Portugal. Cacela Velha is situated on top of a hill with a view to the easternmost lagoon of the Ria Formosa. It is the site of the Fortaleza de Cacela.

Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve

Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve (Portuguese: Reserva Natural do Sapal de Castro Marim e Vila Real de Santo António) is a natural reserve in Portugal.

Castro Marim and Vila Real de Santo António Marsh Natural Reserve is one of the 30 areas which are officially under protection in Portugal.

Domiciano Cavém

Domiciano Barrocal Gomes Cavém (21 November 1932 – 12 January 2005) was a Portuguese footballer who played mainly for Benfica in several positions, but mostly as a right back.

He appeared in 420 official games for his main club, scoring 104 goals and winning 16 major titles, including two European Cups.

Fortress of Cacela

The Fortress of Cacela (Portuguese: Fortaleza de Cacela is a fortress in the civil parish of Vila Nova de Cacela, municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, in the southeastern Portuguese district of Faro (Algarve).

A castle was built there in the Muslim period. The current structure was built between 1770 and 1794.

Within the boundaries of the Nature Park of Ria Formosa and Rede Natura 2000 sectorial plan, it was included in the Special Protection Zone of Cacela Velha, and designated as a Sítio de Interesse Comunitário (Community Site of Interest) for Ria Formosa and Castro Marim.

Gonçalo Rodrigues

Gonçalo Rosa Gonçalves Pereira Rodrigues (born 18 July 1997), also known as Guga, is a Portuguese professional footballer who plays for Famalicão as a midfielder.


The Guadiana River (, also US: , Spanish: [ɡwaˈðjana], Portuguese: [ɡwɐðiˈɐnɐ]), or Odiana, is an international river defining a long stretch of the Portugal-Spain border, separating Extremadura and Andalucia (Spain) from Alentejo and Algarve (Portugal). The river's basin extends from the eastern portion of Extremadura to the southern provinces of the Algarve; the river and its tributaries flow from east to west, then south through Portugal to the border towns of Vila Real de Santo António (Portugal) and Ayamonte (Spain), where it flows into the Gulf of Cádiz. With a course that covers a distance of 829 kilometres (515 mi), it is the fourth-longest in the Iberian peninsula, and its hydrological basin extends over an area of approximately 68,000 square kilometres (26,000 sq mi) (the majority of which lies within Spain).

José Rita

José Bartolomeu Barrocal Rita dos Mártires (2 April 1932 – deceased), commonly known as Zé Rita, was a Portuguese footballer who played as a goalkeeper.

Linha do Algarve

Linha do Algarve is a railway line in the Algarve, which connects the stations of Lagos and Vila Real de Santo António.

Lusitano F.C. (Portugal)

Lusitano Futebol Clube, often known as Lusitano VRSA, is a Portuguese football club from Vila Real de Santo António, in the Algarve region. The club was founded on April 15, 1916 and is the No. 1 delegation of S.L. Benfica, and has Miguel Ângelo Machado Vairinhos as its current president. In the 2016–2017 season they competed in Campeonato de Portugal (third tier of Portuguese football pyramid) and their head coach is Ricardo Sousa. The team played in the main Portuguese football competition, the Portuguese Liga, for three seasons, in 1947–48, 1948–49 and 1949–50.

Manta Rota

Manta Rota is a small seaside town in the civil parish of Vila Nova de Cacela, municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, in the Algarve, Portugal. Manta Rota is an important tourist destination due to its sandy beaches by the Atlantic Ocean.

Manuel Caldeira

Manuel António Caldeira (14 December 1926 - 9 August 2014) was a Portuguese retired footballer who played as defender. He was born in Vila Real de Santo António, Algarve).

Monte Gordo

Monte Gordo may refer to:

Monte Gordo, Cape Verde, the tallest mountain on the island of São Nicolau, Cape Verde

Monte Gordo (Vila Real de Santo António), a civil parish in the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, Algarve, Portugal

Monte Gordo (Vila Real de Santo António)

Monte Gordo is a town and a freguesia (parish) of the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, in the southeastern corner of Algarve, Portugal. The population in 2011 was 3,308, in an area of 4.22 km². Formerly a fishermen's town, Monte Gordo's economy is nowadays oriented to tourism due to its long white sand beaches, trails in the surrounding pine woods, sand dunes, and the daily availability of fresh seafood gathered by the local artisan fishermen.

Prior to the Carnation Revolution in 1974, Monte Gordo was a favorite destination for the Portuguese and Spanish aristocracies as well as famous people (e.g. Ingrid Bergam). Its Casino was built in 1934 and Hotel Vasco da Gama was the first grand hotel in Algarve (built in 1960). With democracy, Monte Gordo became a favorite summer destination for the Portuguese middle class.

Monte Gordo beach is known for its relatively calm and warm seawater. The average air temperature ranges from a low of 11 °C in January to a high of 26 °C in August, while the average sea temperature ranges from a low of 16 °C in February to a high of 22 °C between July and September, making this the maritime beach with the warmest sea in mainland Portugal. Another particularity of this beach is the fact that during the low tide one is able to walk 10 to 30 meters into the sea, making it one of the safest in Portugal for children. These conditions make it ideal for beach goers to collect clams lightly buried in the sand (locals call "conquilhas" to the local variety of clams). Monte Gordo beach holds the Blue Flag quality certificate for more than 2 decades.Though most tourists are Portuguese during the summer, in the winter Monte Gordo is mostly visited by foreigners from Northern Europe looking for warm weather, tasty seafood, and a safe and peaceful vacation destination. Given the nearby VRSA Sports Complex, accredited by IAAF and home of the Portuguese Olympic Committee, Monte Gordo is also a favorite destination for international athletes and teams during the winter.

Not surprisingly, the local commerce has adapted to demand and now there are also several Dutch and Irish bars as well as restaurants (most of then owned by expatriates from those countries) along side the traditional Portuguese venues.

Monte Gordo is a small town but it has most services and amenities one may need, from pharmacies to banks, kids playgrounds, tennis courts, as well as several hotels and apartment rentals. Several high quality golf courses are located nearby.

The main festivity in Monte Gordo is the Nossa Senhora das Dores Procession, a catholic celebration held on the second Sunday of September. Its new year and carnival festivities are also well-known.

Mário da Rosa

Mário da Rosa (1917 – deceased), is a former Portuguese footballer who played as a goalkeeper.

He was most known for his thirteen-year spell at Benfica, where he the league titles.

Vila Nova de Cacela

Vila Nova de Cacela, or simply Cacela, is a town and Civil parish in the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, the southeasternmost of the Algarve, Portugal. The population in 2011 was 3,902, in an area of 46.03 km². Cacela is an exclave of the municipality of Vila Real de Santo António, one of only three in Portugal to have exclaves.

A lagoon and popular beaches exist by the coast of this civil parish. It is also the site of the eighteenth-century Fortaleza de Cacela.

Vila Real de Santo António (parish)

Vila Real de Santo António is the parish of Vila Real de Santo António Municipality, Algarve Region, that contains the city of Vila Real de Santo António. The population in 2011 was 11,946, in an area of 10.99 km².The city of Vila Real de Santo António is situated at the southeasternmost tip of Portugal. The city lies on one side of the mouth of the Guadiana River, at the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Spain lies on the opposite side of the river, and from there are directly facing Vila Real de Santo António the city of Ayamonte and its adjacent Isla Canela.


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