Mercado de Escravos
This unassuming building in Praca do Infante Dom Henrique has a tragic history. This building, (Mercado de Escravos) is widely believed to have been the first slave market in Europe.
In 1444 Prince Henry the Navigator set up a trading post in Arguin Bay, an island off the coast of Mauritania in West Africa. From here, that same year, slaves were shipped over to be sold in Lagos. The original building that stood here was built in that same year. Contemporary accounts tell of the abject misery and trauma witnessed when the first slaves were sold on the site. Families were torn apart and the conditions in which the slaves were kept were appalling.
From 1444 onwards the West African slave trade continued and within 10 years it is believed that around 800 slaves were transported along this route annually.
The building we see here today was substantially re-built in 1691and was used as a customs house. Today a small museum can be found here. The exhibition on the ground floor has some original objects associated with the slave trade and some replicas. More installations are found in an upper room which is accessed by leaving the building and walking a short way down a side road. There are displays of artwork and maps. Information is given via a tablet which is handed out at the museum entrance.
Quite a lot is known about the lives of the slaves who were sold here. Some of the men were sent to work as labourers, galley slaves and fishermen. Women were used as street sellers or sometimes sent into domestic service. It has been estimated that by the 16th century, as many as 10% of the Algarve population were slaves.
Once Prince Henry, whose statue can be seen in the square, died, the focus of the Portuguese slave trade gradually moved from Lagos to Lisbon.