The River Museum was established in order to preserve the traditions, techniques, artefacts and memories connected with the River Guadiana and the people who lived on its banks, with the function of portraying all the heritage relating to the river; to this end, it studied the natural heritage, ethnography of the river, local history and industrial archaeology linked to the river, shipbuilding, tidal mills etc.; the fundamental objective was to raise the awareness of local people living near the river about the importance of participating in the museum’s activities and regarding it as a vehicle of their identity and an instrument for disseminating and acknowledging the value of their history and their expertise.
The project for this museum venue was drawn up and executed by an outside team that was contracted for this purpose, led by the museologist Luísa Rogado, who was Director of the Algarve Regional Museum at that time, and included the collaboration of the Alcance association. The topics handled by the team – geographic contextualization; navigation on the Guadiana; the flow of trade; Alcoutim and the defence of the region; contraband; fishing in the river, equipment and artefacts; riverside villages; stories of the river; oral tradition; nature conservation; rural tourism connected with the river, an alternative to the mass tourism of the coast – led to the first exhibition of the River “Museum” in the former primary school of Guerreiros do Rio, which was presented to the community in November 1994 and was officially opened in January 1995 by the Civil Governor of Faro, Mr Cabrita Neto.
Work to expand the building began in 2003 and the increase in area meant that it was possible to create an auditorium, a room for long-term exhibitions, a reserve collection and a technical office, and to remodel the two existing rooms, turning one into a reception and the other into a temporary exhibition room, as well as enlarging the toilets.
After being closed for three years for the extension and remodelling work, the new River Museum was opened on 8th September 2006 by the Civil Governor of the District of Faro, Mr António Ventura Pina, with the aim of paying tribute to the river and its people. The new venue opened to the public with the long-term exhibition Olhar o Guadiana por dentro (Looking at the Guadiana on the inside), a presentation based on the research work carried out by the University of the Algarve into the traditions, techniques, artefacts and heritage connected with the River Guadiana, and with the temporary exhibition The memory of the river, whose subject matter was based on the museum’s first exhibition.
Thanks to an agreement between the local authority and Mr José Murta Pereira, the museum’s temporary exhibition room is home, for an open-ended period, to the collection of replicas of boats that sailed on the Guadiana until the mid-1960s; the exhibition Traditional Boats of the Lower Guadiana was opened on 12th September 2008.