The date of the city’s foundation is uncertain, although it most certainly dates back to the distant past. There are, however, clear traces of the area’s occupation by the Romans, with the fishing and fish-salting centre of Cerro da Vila in Vilamoura being the best example, and it is known that when the Moors arrived in Loulé in 715, it was already an important town.
Loulé was reconquered by the Christians in 1249, in the reign of Dom Afonso III, having been awarded a charter in 1266. Remaining from the Middle Ages is the Castle, whose towers can still be seen amidst the houses, as well as some sections of its walls. In 1291, the king Dom Dinis set up a fair in Loulé, making it the region’s main trading centre.
As Loulé was an inland town, it did not directly benefit from the wealth of the period of the Discoveries as much as several other places along the coast, although it is nonetheless possible to find here a number of Manueline decorative features in the city’s houses and monuments, such as the Igreja de São Clemente or the Igreja da Misericórdia. The region’s economic development resulted from its farming activity, especially from its dry fruit products (almonds and figs), and the handicraft articles that have continued to be produced over many centuries. Loulé was raised to the status of a city in 1988.
Nowadays, Loulé is the economic centre of Portugal’s largest municipality, where the coastal towns live from tourism and the inland areas depend on trade and agriculture. On the city’s outskirts are some of the best-known tourist areas in the Algarve, such as Vilamoura or Quarteira on the coast and Salir or Alte inland.
Very close to the city, nature lovers will be pleasantly surprised by the Protected Areas of Benémola and Rocha da Pena, which help to preserve a different Algarve, one that is filled with native vegetation and where it is possible to enjoy some organised walking tours.
Loulé’s carnival celebrations are amongst the most famous in Portugal.