Although very much now a resort town, as well as an affluent commuter town for nearby Lisbon, Cascais still shows many glimpses of its past, from the early years as a fishing village (fishing boats still bob in water just off the main square), through the building of the (still standing) Citadela as part of the defences of the mouth of the River Tagus, to its nineteenth century discovery by the aristocracy, many of whose mansions also still remain.
From the Middle Ages, the Cascais economy was based on fishing, maritime commerce (it was a stop for ships sailing to Lisbon), and agriculture (wine, olive oil, cereals and fruits). Due to its location close to the estuary of the River Tagus, it was also seen as a strategic post in the defence of Lisbon, hence the development of a fortress or citadel here in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed a large portion of the village, and in the following years it declined, and was for a while occupied by Napoleonic troops. But its growth as a fashionable resort and retreat from the city was stimulated in 1870 when the King, Luís I, converted the Citadela into a summer residence. Where the king led, the aristocracy followed, and several aristocratic palaces and mansions were built in the town. Some of the Art Nouveau houses built in the early years of the 20th century still stand, including this lovely house overlooking the harbour.
In 1926 the railway line from Lisbon to Cascais was electrified (the first to be so in the country), making it even easier for people to visit or even to move here. During the Second World War several Monarchs and Heads of State of a number of European countries sought refuge in here and in nearby Estoril, including the Duke of Windsor, King Umberto of Italy, King Carol II of Romania, Prince Juan of Spain, Count Henri of France. Others came too – aristocrats, politicians, actors, writers ... There were so many that the population increased by over 20,000 people between 1939 and 1946.
Today’s Cascais is a pleasing blend of history, tourism and everyday local life. The aristocracy may have moved on, but it is still a very pleasant and desirable place in which to live, as evidenced by the house prices I saw in the windows of local estate agents