The Port of Setubal lies on the northern shore of a deep estuary formed where the Sado, Marateca, and Sao Martinho rivers meet in southwestern Portugal. About 40 kilometers southeast of the Port of Lisbon, the Port of Setubal is the administrative center for the Setubal district. In 2001, over 91 thousand people lived in the city proper, and the population of the urban area was over 118 thousand.
Over the past decades, the Port of Setubal and surrounding region have experienced significant industrial growth. The Port of Setubal has undergone extensive renovation, and road improvements improved the links to Lisbon, Faro (to the south), and Spain. The manufacture of automobiles is important to the Port of Setubal economy, as are the industries of glassware, pharmaceuticals, and electrical equipment.
Archaeological evidence shows that Phoenician ships visited the Port of Setubal frequently, and Phoenician merchants set up shop in the city. The first Port of Setubal was constructed during the time of Roman occupation. There is also archaeological evidence of two early industries: preparation of food products based on fish and production of ceramic containers (amphorae) for those products.
A unique type of boat was made in Port of Setubal. These “boats of the Sado” were used for fishing and moving merchandise. The boats of Sado carried salt drained from the river until the 1970s. When the people started draining the swampy areas around the Port of Setubal, the boats of Sado were left at the river’s edge to rot. The Port of Setubal port authority found and restored several of the old boats, and they are used to give tourists a nice view of the area. Other can be seen at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography of the District of Setubal.
The first work on the modern Port of Setubal began in 1793 when a single dock was constructed to provide shelter for small boats. In 1836, the Port of Setubal’s City Council authorized the construction of the first dock berth near the Ribeira estuary. Called the Delpeut Dock, it was for a century the only shelter provided by the port for small boats.
In 1923, the first formal port authority for the Port of Setubal was created by law. The new Port of Setubal was inaugurated in July 1930 by the President of Portugal. Construction continued on the Port of Setubal until 1934. Over this period, the old Delpeut Dock was expanded, 600 thousand square meters of open yards were added, and three new dock berths were created to support fishing, commerce, and recreation.
Six new wharves were added in the Port of Setubal. The coal wharf was 60 meters long with alongside depth of 18 meters. Serving fishing vessels, the Lota Wharf berth was 120 meters long with alongside depth of 18 meters. The first commercial wharf in the Port of Setubal was 130 meters long with alongside depth of 7.6 meters. The second commercial wharf, dedicated to general cargoes and served by rail, was 60 meters long with alongside depth of 5.8 meters. Two additional commercial wharves were added in 1966, bringing another 175 meters of berths with alongside depth of 9 meters and an additional 1.1 hectares of open yards to the Port of Setubal.
In 1970, the Port of Setubal’s commercial wharf was improved by dredging to a depth of 10 meters. Also in that decade, specialized wharves came into operation to support the new industries in the Port of Setubal. In 1985, the Roll-on/Roll-off terminal was added to the existing Multi-purpose Terminal in Zone 1, bringing an additional 220 meters of berthing space with alongside depth of 10.5 meters.
In 1992, the Port of Setubal Container Terminal was completed, adding 320 meters of berthing space to the Port of Setubal. In 1994, a roll-on/roll-off terminal was finished to serve AutoEuropa with a 370-meter long berth with alongside depth of 12 meters. In 2002, a new Multi-purpose Terminal was added to support the handling of containers in the Port of Setubal.