Museum of Portimão

José Gameiro


Museum of Portimão

R. D. Carlos I / Zona Ribeirinha, 8500-677 Portimao

Portimao, Portugal
Council of Europe Museum Prize 2010

A Self-Portrait and a Permanent Observatory of The Community


The Museum of Portimao, located in the Algarve, Portugal's southernmost region, is housed in the former fish canning factory " Feu Hermanos", on the right bank of the River Arade.
It opened on May 17th 2008 as a society, identity and territory museum.

This project arises and develops itself on a region deeply dominated, since the seventies, by tourism, which brought a new model of planning, specially along the coast line.
This caused a huge socio-economic impact, as well as significant changes on cultural and natural landscapes.

The Atlantic position of Portimao and the profound connection man feels towards this territory led to the development of a strong and continuous maritime culture which is reflected on the precious industrial, naval, underwater, archeological, ethnographic, iconographic and intangible heritage already collected.

Therefore, the museum's mission is to act as a mediatory and cultural management structure in order to interpret, highlight the values and develop the most relevant tangible and intangible testimonies. We actually became an observatory of and to the community's history and culture.

The museum program is based on the following four main goals:

  1. To restore the industrial and historical heritage;
  2. To reinforce the links between the town and the river;
  3. To interpret and strengthen the identity, history and heritage of local communities;
  4. To augment cultural development and create new audiences

The long-term exhibition, entitled "Portimao - Territory and Identity", is a self-portrait of the historical evolution of the territory until modern times and is divided in three sections:

Section 1 - "Origin and destiny of a community"
On this section are showcased the cross between cultures who took advantage of the territory's geographic location and natural resources from pre-history, through roman and islamic occupation, to our recent past.
Here are also underlined some of the most representative activities to Portimao's social, cultural and economic life, through the decades of the 20th century, on a transition from a rural to an industrial age.

Section 2 - "The Industrial Life and the Challenge of the Sea"
The main goal is to depict the fish-canning memory and its deep connection to the sea and the river. We enhance the role men and women played in the former most important economic activity of the region.
Starting with the arrival of the fish, straight to the factory's "Beheading Room", we are led from Portimao's old harbour to the factory''s heart while getting the general idea of fish-canning methods of handling, production, packaging and promotion. The presence of workers allows the public to observe and to listen to their direct testimonies about their hard life and the industrial period of Portimao.

Section 3 - "Under the Waters"
Placed on the factory's old underground cistern, underneath the main exhibition, where the rainwater was captured and sent to the steam boilers, the visitors symbolically dive and can see movies about the underwater fauna and flora of Portimao's coast and riverbed.

The museum's concept of becoming a permanent observatory is explained throughout the long-term exhibition and also by an array of other activities achieved by the museum team (archaeologists, historians, restorers, anthropologists, archivists, designers, among others) in cooperation with several community groups with special interests in the local history, memory and identity

This work is materialized in:

  1. Project "the museum knocks on our history's door" - An ongoing project of collecting and interpreting testimonies and memories from members of the community, with a special focus on the persons related to the activities linked with the sea and river.
  2. Educational services - The museum has a purpose-built room to accommodate youths and school groups. Through role playing and games they are able to learn and develop the activities of our annual program which offers an approach to many of the stories and times the museum's exhibition shows.
  3. Portimao's photomarathon - A yearly photo run throughout Portimao  all day long, either on film, digital or underwater mode, as a means to promote a deeper understanding of the territory through themes related to natural and cultural heritage.
  4. Documentation center and historical archive - Our public library focused on themes related to the museum activities such as industry, history, archaeology, tourism, anthropology or museology but it holds in trust  the Town Hall's historical archive as well an important documentation fund that came from fish-canning companies, naval shipyards, social groups or individuals.
  5. Temporary exhibition production program - The museum has two temporary exhibitions rooms where we stage year-long displays on specific themes of the museum collection, therefore assuming a function of a contemporary storyteller. It also welcomes national or international exhibitions considered relevant to the public which often are the result of networking with other museums and institutions.
  6. Auditorium - The museum has 174-seat multi-purpose auditorium. There we promote conferences, concerts or a bi-annual film festival. It is also an important meeting point to observe a modern approach on culture.

Council of Europe Museum Prize 2010

The Museum of Portimao won this important award mostly because of its work with the community and different cultures. It was considered to have shown a great understanding of both a local and global world in the past as in the present, being a fine example of good practices and an important counterpoint of preservation and reflection on cultural heritage, in a context of a mass tourism region.



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