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History and Culture

From the beginning

In prehistory, human beings found favorable conditions to establish themselves in Arrábida. Over the centuries, human occupation of this region has left some traces that we can still detect nowadays. In the Paleolithic, Arrábida was occupied by groups of Homo erectus that settled on the coast, mainly between Cape Espichel and Sesimbra. In Lapa de Santa Margarida and in the Figueira Brava cave, we find traces of the Lower Paleolithic (400,000 to 200,000 B.C.).


From the Bronze Age to Medieval Times

Roça do Casal do Meio, located in the lands of Risco, Sesimbra, is a Bronze Age grave. In the Iron Age, the privileged location of this region with the river Sado mouth, favored the establishment of a commercial warehouse. Thus, in various areas of the region, Phoenician factories and fortified villages emerged.

The Romans also recognized the value of this special coast, and around the year 25 BC focused on the exploration and transformation of its marine resources. On the beaches of the mouth of the Sado and also in Creiro, near Portinho da Arrábida, there were fish salting and garum preparation centers (composed of fish remains, roe, blood, seafood and shellfish macerated in salt, to which were added sauces), which after being packed in amphorae were exported to the consumption centers of the empire.

In the 8th century, the Arabs settled in and their presence left marks on the toponymy and on the fortified squares of Sesimbra and Palmela, where the medieval castles were built. In 1165, under the reign of D. Afonso Henriques, the Moorish Castle was conquered, which was later reconquered by the Moors. In 1200, D. Sancho I regained Sesimbra and built a new castle. In 1217, Alcácer do Sal was reconquered by the Christians and the town of Setúbal began to benefit from the protection of the Order of Santiago.


Fisheries marked the history and culture of the region

In Sesimbra, from the 14th century on, the population of the castle village dedicated their livelihoods to fishing and gradually settled in the area of ​​the old Póvoa da Ribeira. Fishing became increasingly important. During the reigns of D. Dinis, D. João I and D. João II, fishing activity was strongly encouraged. In the 15th century, royalty and nobility took up a seasonal residence in Setúbal, which became a popular summer resort for the aristocracy. Throughout this century, Setúbal developed several economic activities linked to the naval industry and maritime trade. In 1514, D. Manuel I gave a new charter to the Vila de Sesimbra in which, among other measures, provisions on fishing appear. In the 16th century, fishing reached considerable importance, being mentioned in several documents of the time. It was also in this century that the Arrábida Convent was founded by Franciscan friars.

In addition to fishing, sailors left Sesimbra at the time of the discoveries, in caravels to whose construction the local shipbuilding contributed. Setúbal also underwent a great development at the time of the discoveries. D. Afonso V and his army departed from its port to conquer Alcácer Ceguer. During the 17th century, during the reign of King João IV, several forts were built along the coast of Sesimbra. At the same time, Setúbal reached its peak of prosperity when salt assumed a leading role as a bargaining chip during and after the Restoration of Independence wars. This prosperity was interrupted by the 1755 earthquake.

From the end of the 19th century, the village of Sesimbra became one of the most important fishing ports in the country and Setúbal also managed to regain the prosperity it had lost, with the arrival of the railway, the beginning of the factories. preserves, and the growing fame of oranges and muscatel.



During the second half of the 20th century there were major changes in the fishing sector. Technological development and the granting of financial support to fishermen with a view to the acquisition of modern vessels, allowed fishing in more distant places. In the 1960s, an extremely important economic activity developed in Arrábida: the harvesting of Gelidium sesquipedale. Gelidium is a red alga from which agar (a gelatinous substance used for scientific and food purposes) is produced.In the 90s, Sesimbra was the port responsible for about 8% of the total volume of fish landed on the Continent. In addition to fishing, the exploitation of geological resources also played an important role in the economy of this area.

Over the past 30 years, tourism has had a huge impact on the region, also influencing the commerce, catering and maritime-tourism sectors. Tourism has also influenced the construction sector, with an increase in demand for secondary housing in the region, changing the landscape.


Science in the Marine Park, an old path


The history of the Marine Park is intrinsically linked to the history of oceanography in Portugal. In the 19th century, the Portuguese zoologist José Vicente Barbosa du Bocage (1823-1907) revolutionized international oceanography by demonstrating the capture of a marine sponge Hyalonema lusitanicum at a depth greater than 500 meters, which at the time was believed to be the limit from the which there would be no life, according to the “azoic theory”. King D. Carlos also carried out several oceanographic campaigns in the region, pioneering the study of the Setúbal canyon.
The interest in unraveling the mysteries of the Ocean led to new studies on marine biodiversity during the first half of the 20th century. Many of the innovations about the marine fauna of the Setúbal region have reached our days thanks through work of Luís Gonzaga do Nascimento (1882-1970). This naturalist from Setúbal, son of a fishing entrepreneur, started from a very early age a vast collection of marine specimens that he conserved with mastery, making him an international reference in the field. In 1955 the estate was donated to the city of Setúbal (Junta of the Province of Estremadura) constituting the “Oceanographic and Fisheries Museum” in Setúbal.
In the second half of the 20th century, the development of scuba diving gave scientists a new perspective on the seabed. In Portugal, the contribution of Professor Luiz Saldanha's work to the investigation and teaching of marine biology stands out, with part of his work being developed on the coast of Arrábida. Since then, and until today, the technological leap that has taken place has enabled great advances in marine sciences, and this has resulted in a proliferation of scientific research developed in this special coast.