Portimao stands at the mouth of the River Arade in the Algarve. It is an ancient city that grew in the age of discoveries in the 15th and 16th centuries and received its municipal charter in 1504. It declined after many of its buildings were destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755, but grew rapidly in the late 19th century, principally as a fishing port. There was a long tradition in the region of preserving fish, particularly sardine, but putting them in barrels with salt, but the new technology of canning was introduced and by 1900 there were 22 fish-canning factories in the town. An export trade in cork, figs, olives, almonds fruit and timber developed at the same time, and many migrants from the countryside flocked in to swell the town’s population. The canning industry declined after the Second World War, particularly during the 1970s and the last factory closed in 1985.
The municipal museum occupies the former Feu Hermanos canning works. It portrays the growth and decline of the canning industry, the living conditions of its workers and the rise of new service industries in the Algarve in the late 20th century. It holds a collection of works of art relating to the town’s history and regularly hosts special exhibitions.