A very small island, Tavira Island, lies off the coast of Tavira in southern Portugal. It is connected to the mainland by a causeway that stops floods and offers a convenient place for recreation activities such as strolling.
The island has been inhabited since pre-history; the Romans conquered it in 138 BC and called it “Forum Traiani”. Thereafter it was successively occupied by the Visigoths, the Arabs, the Normans and several dynasties of pirates and fishermen. Spanish nobles built a refuge there called “Castelo dos Mouros” in 1160; in 1161 it was conquered by an Anglo-Portuguese force. It was later reinforced by “ancient walls” – a reference to the medieval fortifications built by the Order of São João de Castro. São Nicolau da Barca bought the island from the knights in 1457 and built a chapel. He also had a hospital here, which from 1603 was recognized as a public institution, turning Tavira into one of only 11 hospital centres in Portugal. It eventually ceased to be used as such in 1832 when it was taken over by the town council.
Tavira Island was for centuries a fortified prison, known as “Castelo de Tavira”, better known as “Aqueduct Prison” (“Prisão da Aquedut”). Ernest Hemingway wrote about the aqueduct in his book “A Farewell to Arms”. The prison was disbanded in the 19th century when it became obsolete. The local legend has it that Count de Taure, a French prisoner of war, escaped by climbing through the Aqueduct and swimming to the mainland.
The municipality of Tavira celebrated the 250th anniversary of its township on 26 March 2003. The festivities started with a parade through Tavira by city officials dressed as knights. A representative of the city of San Jose, California, was also present to commemorate the fact that there are two cities named Tavira. The Castle of Tavira was opened to visitors during the celebrations.
Tavira Island is listed as a Biological Reserve by ICNB (Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e da Biodiversidade). Its main activity is fishing and farming oysters and mussels, but due to its size it isn’t very productive. The island’s population currently stands at approximately 50 people.
The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway that stops floods and offers a convenient place for recreation activities such as strolling.