/Olhão battles Napoleon

Olhão battles Napoleon

In 1808, mainland Portugal was occupied by the French army and ruled by general Junot, while the Royal Family had escaped to Brazil, with the support of the British Navy – creating a kind of a government in exile, anticipating in 120 years the moves of several European governments escaping Hitler’s armies.

But in June 1808, the fishing village got tired of the abuse and rebelled. The inhabitants expelled the French garrison and, very soon, all of Algarve was liberated. The “Portuguese Resistance” was not only victorious but useful to create mayhem among French leadership, a few weeks before Wellington disembarked for the first time in the Peninsula.

Next week, between 12th and 13th June, Olhão will recreate the people’s revolt against Napoleon. Residents are invited to participate in the recreation, as actors. The main event will happen at 6.30 pm, at the Church (Igreja Matriz), on Wednesday, and again the day after, at 5 p.m., recreating the leaving of a small boat to Brazil to tell the Regent-Prince about the news.

Historic recreations

Portuguese municipalities and tourism board are investing in historical recreations to get visitors, especially in Summer months. Medieval fairs are everywhere, usually when there is a castle or a good set of medieval walls to offer good scenery. Others, like Olhão, are trying to playing it differently.

The Peninsular War is not felt the same way for Portuguese as it is for English. Portuguese, before everything else, don’t get a particular sense of pride or military spirit from reviving the episode (they call it the “Three French Invasions”); moreover, it is mostly forgotten and a matter of history books. There are no national celebrations of the fact; only the city of Torres Vedras (which gave its name to the Lines of Torres Vedras, built by general Wellington to stop the French in their route to Lisbon) incorporates it in its local folklore.

The Olhão Town Hall initiative appears as a pleasant surprise, then. Although the event still doesn’t include music or restaurants, tourists – especially those with interest in history – will find it interesting and amusing. For the British, even if this particular operation was outside Wellington’s influence, remembering the Peninsular War is an excellent way to celebrate the oldest alliance in the world, dating back from the 14th century.