Walk around any town or village in the Algarve and you will see what appear to be minarets on the roofs of the houses. Look closer and you will see that they are, in fact, chimneys. The chimneys of the Algarve are a distinctive architectural feature of this region and range from simple cylindrical shapes to more complex geometric shapes with complicated filigree and latticework.
The Moorish influence in the architecture of the Algarve, characterised by small, simple, whitewashed houses, gives the region an identity that has less in common with the rest of Portugal and more with southern Spain and North Africa. This is not surprising bearing in mind that the Moors ruled the region they named al-Gharb (which means ‘the west’) from the 8th century to the 13th century. However, it is a common misconception that the chimneys date from the Moorish period, partly based on a myth which says that after the Christian reconquest Muslims in the Algarve, who were banned from practicing their religion, built small minarets on their roofs disguised as chimneys to identify themselves to other Muslims. The truth is that decorative chimneys first started being built on houses in the late-17th and early-18th centuries.
The original 17th- and 18th-century chimneys were built by craftsmen and the more elaborate the design the more expensive the chimney, thus intricate chimneys became a symbol of wealth. No two chimneys were the same, allowing each house to have its own identity. One of the best examples of an eighteenth-century chimney can be see on the roof of the museum on Rua da Chaminé in the small town of Porches near Lagoa. The chimney with its distinctive figure of a woman in yellow dates from 1793.
Sadly, as a result of mass-production, the idea of each house having a unique chimney is no longer the case. However, the tradition of having a decorated chimney on the roof of the house continues today and modern architects are developing styles of chimney that match the more modern styles of houses, which has resulted in unconventional shapes, using colour to highlight details, and adding additional ornamentation, such as statues of birds, on the chimney top.