A millennium and a half before the pousada at Estoi there was a Roman equivalent. A short ride inland from Faro, where he might just have owned the town house with the magnificent Neptune mosaic, a regional official or aristocrat converted a farm house into a villa with many more sea-inspired mosaics. Its date matches the Neptune. He may also have built the nearby temple, converted into a church two centuries later.
Unlike the pousada, Milreu is in ruins nonetheless recognisable and appreciable. An hour or two gives a good idea of the site and its history which extended, in other hands, until the nineteenth century. Admission is by means of a small museum with just a few artefacts (the remainder in Faro), after which a visitor is free to wander. A leaflet gives a brief summary of the site and history, but one’s eyes serve well in bringing the ruins to life.
Fish and dolphins or porpoises dominate the mosaics, indicating a bath house complex and perhaps other water-related buildings. Signs of an atrium, which would have had its own water feature, are apparent. Garden plots can de discerned and, in a corner of the site, is what was probably the granary kept in use by Visigoths, Arabs and medieval Christians. Heating systems and a stable are still to be seen, either building on or adapting Roman originals and incorporating mosaic floors as available. The wonder here is how the mosaics have survived all uses and what a British museum curator would probably regard as grotesque lack of conservation and protection. Nearly all are in the open air, available for a careless visitor to walk on.
It may possibly have been the Visigoths who converted the temple into a church. This seems to have been done around the time of their arrival. It could equally have been after a decision by a late, even the last, Roman. Today it is the tallest if not the most complete of the remaining structures. The former granary has that character.
Considerably more humble than the pousada is the cafe just outside the site. It may also serve as a restaurant. By the time our visit ended the bus for Faro was almost due, so we had no chance to enquire. Less than half an hour later we were able to make tea in our apartment, and complement it with delicious pastels de nata from the bakery next door.