If the Algarve is the main orange producing region in the country and Silves has the main one in this region, in terms of quantity and quality, when analyzing the historical evolution of orange cultivation in Portugal, we see that both the preponderance of Silves and the Algarve are relatively recent. .
The climatic conditions of the region (sun, absence of frost) and climatic conditions are not due to an essential factor, water. Thus, the development of the culture of oranges started only after the construction of the Arade (1956) and Odiáxere / Bravura (1958) dams and with a subsequent increase with the opening of numerous artesian.
To present a historical outline, albeit a summary, of the orange culture in Portugal and, particularly, in the Algarve region, is the objective of this objective.
The first introduction of the orange tree in the Hispanic Peninsula is due to the Arabs who brought the plant from Persia, around the 10th century, most likely. Several books by Garb al-Andalus are referred to as oranges, whether in books by agricultural authors, treatises or in literary texts.
An outstanding example is the verses of Ibn-Sarafrom Santarém (11th century):
Oranges are live coals on branches
or faces lurking between green hills?
and the branches, leaves that sway
or serious forms that cause me pity? (…)
In the eleventh century, the agronomist Abu Zacharia, who lived in Seville, wrote a treatise on agriculture (Kitab al-filaha), with a chapter dedicated to the orange tree, in which he refers to the culinary (confectionery), medicinal and perfumery uses of the fruit, peel, leaf and flower, and tells us that the orange variety was sour (agra).
A curious engraving of an Arab doctor, from the 13th century, in al-Andalus, shows us a prince, a doctor and his assistant, under an orange tree.
Not that it will come to constitute the Kingdom of the Algarve, the culture will come to know the orange tree, certainly Arabic, but it will take time to refer to the references attested in the 1 medieval documentation. Manueline charter of silves and in the other Algarve charters, in the chapter on toll fees for “Green and dry fruit”:and of greater load [cerca de dez arrobas] for oranges, pears, peaches, apples and any other green fruit will pay half a real (…) And whoever buys less costal or canasta abroad will pay nothing.
The oranges mentioned in the charters of 1504 were, with higher probability, of the agra or sour variety (Citrus aurantium L.), because sweet oranges, the so-called Chinese oranges (Citrus sinensisL.) were only acclimatized in Portugal from the 19th century onwards. XVII, although some researchers argue that its culture may be older. In a recent work (Anabela RamosOranges from Portugal, centuries of cultivation and consumption2022), there is still a pertinent hypothesis, supported by diverse documentation, that, in the 16th century, through grafts and successive renovations, an agra variety was refined to the sweetest, giving a bittersweet variety, then called orange. nozzle.
But let’s see what they tell us about very rare documentary references to oranges and orange trees in the medieval period.
In 1258, in the Inquiries of D. Afonso III, the toponym “Laranjeira” appears, in a place near Guimarães (inquisitions, I, p. 708). In 1262, in a document from the registry office of the University of Coimbra, quoted by Viterbo (Elucidary, II, p. 169), we find the mention of an énaranjeira (that is, naranjeira, the same as orange tree), Then, in 1374, it nourishes a conventual document, cited by Viterbo (Elucidary II, p. 405), one speaks of the “branches of orange trees of certovirgeu” (=orchard). In an expense book of the royal house, during the reign of King Afonso V (1438-1481), we are informed that the orange was one of the ingredients in the preparation of a kind of preserved fish (cf. Anabela Ramos, op. cit. page 26). From the end of the century XV, beginning of the century. XVI, is dated the Cookbook of the Infanta D. Maria of Portugalin which the recipe for a compote with orange blossom appears, but no recipe with orange.
Apparently, the first contact the Portuguese had with a variety of sweet oranges was in 1498, in India. The author of Vasco da Gama screenplay says that when Portuguese ships, in 1498, arrived near Mombasa, they to them almadias … who brought many oranges, very good, better than those from Portugal.
This fact has led some authors (eg Cristina Castel-Branco, cf. Ramos, op. cit., p. 35) to consider that the Portuguese brought, at that time, the sweet orange tree to Portugal and acclimatized it in our territory. . In support of this opinion, it is mentioned that D. João de Castro, in 1543, brought some orange trees from Goa and planted them in Quinta da Penha Verde (Sintra). It is from, probably, must not have passed an isolated experience. Various documents from the 16th century tell us about orange groves on the fences of monasteries and in the gardens of noble houses, without specifying what kind of oranges it treats, presuming that it would be agras.
However, in 1531-1532, in the work Description of Lamegothe author Rui Fernandes suggests that oranges are a fruit with a certain sweetness, since they are consumed fresh.
In the middle of the 16th century, we have several news that tells us about the exportation to Europe of oranges and lemons, with the price of these being higher than oranges, which seems to confirm that they were sour and that the bittersweet variety had even a more restricted production. , local and regional.
Throughout the 16th century, news of oranges from China continually arrived, through the reports of travelers and travelers. In 1569, Friar Gaspar da Cruz details in his Treaty of the Things of Chinathat empire had three varieties of sweet oranges.
However, in the Algarve, the documents keep a silence about the oranges in the region, with the exception of Frei João de S. José who was significant, in 1577, in his Algarve choreography tells us that in Monchique you can find every kind of fruit, that is, cherry, chestnut, pero, orange.
Even at the beginning of the 17th century, when the cultivation of the bittersweet orange tree was already widespread throughout most of the country, we do not find references to this variety in the Algarve.
In 1610, Duarte Nunes de Leão, in his choreography Description of the Kingdom of Portugal, cap. XXXIII, page 62, states thatthe beak oranges that can give health to a feverish, for the great bittersweet temperament that is the most delicious and gluttonous that can be their main production areas were Minho, the Lisbon region, Beira and Alentejo. And repeated, speaking of the same regions: Finally, this fruit is so provided to the earth that in spring, anywhere you find a person smelling the orange blossom.