Portimao stands at the mouth of the River Arade in the Algarve. 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 sardine-canning factories, a long building on the waterfront, and a purpose-built extension. The tour begins with a video from 1946 that explains the canning process, from catching the sardines to washing, salting, cleaning and canning. The museum is split into three exhibitions. The first traces the region’s industrial history with a focus on the La Rose canning factory, where much of the production line has been reconstructed, including the equipment used to preserve the fish and figures of the women who worked there. The archaeological exhibition, titled ‘Portimão, Territory and Identity’ explores the evolution of the region’s population from Neolithic times to the twentieth century. Finally, an exhibition housed in the factory’s huge water cistern, where rainwater was collected for the factory’s brine tanks and boilers, displays animated images of the marine life of the river and coast.