Municipal and District capital, the city of Faro has a dynamic atmosphere not governed by the typical summer or winter seasons.
The lagoon area of Ria Formosa has drawn human presence to it since the Paleolithic era and until end of the Prehistoric era. In this space, a city arises: according to scholars, Ossonoba, an important urban centre during the Roman occupation period which was at the origin of the current city of Faro.
Bishopric seat from the 3rd century and during the Visigothic period, Ossonoba maintains, during the Arab rule, started in the 19th century, its position as the most important city in the extreme southwest of the peninsula. Capital of an ephemeral independent principality in the 9th century, the city is fortified with a circle of walls and the name of Ossonoba starts being replaced by the name “Santa Maria”, later joined by the designation “Hárune”, which gave rise to “Faro”.
After a troubled period caused by the Islamic political-military instability, Faro is reintegrated in the Portuguese territory in 1249, completing the cycle of the Christian Reconquest of the geographical territory that is, today, Portugal.
In the following centuries, Faro becomes a prosperous city due to its geographical position, the safe harbour and the exploration and trade of salt and agricultural products of the Algarve interior region, boosted by the Discoveries. It has, during this period, an important and active Jewish colony who, at the end of the 15th century, locally printing the first Portuguese book.
Recognising the growth of the city, king Manuel promotes, in 1499, a deep urban planning reorganization with the creation of new facilities - a hospital, the Church of Espírito Santo (later rebuilt and administered by the Misericórdia), the customs and a butchery, among others. In 1540, Faro was grantes the statute of city and, in 1577, the seat of the Bishopric of the Algarve is transferred from Silves to Faro. The 1596 looting and fire by the British troops of the Earl of Essex damaged the city walls and churches, impoverishing the city.
The 17th and 18th centuries were a period of expansion for Faro. During the Restoration War (1640-1668) the city was surrounded by a new circle of walls covering the built area and the farm land. The city remains within these limits until the end of the 19th century.
Algarve’s gastronomy, with reminiscences of the Roman and Arab presence in the region, also influenced by the proximity to Ria Formosa and to the Atlantic ocean, is rich in dishes prepared with fish, seafood and local produce, prepared in casseroles, stews or on the grill.
Some of the typical dishes of Faro include horse mackerel, anchovies, brined sardines, clams and cockles, rice with razor clams, casseroles, stews and pasta stews with fish. Corn porridge, better known as xarém, is one of the local trademarks. Meats are also included in the local menus, often mixed with seafood.
Most desserts feature dried-fruit sweets such as almond, fig and carob cakes. Wines and spirits also join the culinary tradition of the Algarve. Benefiting from a demarcated wine region, taking advantage of the typical Mediterranean climate, it uses traditional varieties to produce quality fruit-flavoured wines with low acidity, to which the sun gives a high degree.
A stroll through the sidewalks of Faro
The best way to learn more about the city and its essence it to stroll around it, with inevitable stops at the Manuel Bívar Garden, the City Centre and Vila Adentro. The Manuel Bívar Garden, a symbol of the city, is a must-see for anyone who wants to get to know the city, with a nice sidewalk and several terraces where you can enjoy the region’s mild climate.
The garden is surrounded by a notable group of buildings, namely the Bank of Portugal building, the Church of Misericórdia, the old Hospital of Misericórdia and the Arco da Vila [Village arch], the main entrance to Vila Adentro, the administrative and ecclesiastical centre of Faro. This is where the main cultural events of the municipality take place, especially during the summer. Close to the garden is the city’s nightlife area, commonly known as “Crime Street”, consisting of streets and alleys, with a variety of bars, discos, restaurants and coffee shops bringing life to Faro’s nights.
The only part of the city that survived several violent historical catastrophes was the Old Town, or Vila-Adentro, oval shaped streets and white buildings built within a traditional fortification system, with high and resistant walls.
The houses are decorated with decorative balconies and tiles and you can also find several shops, cafes, restaurants and an art gallery. The central entrance is through the 18th century city doors, the Arco da Vila, next to the tourist office. Considered to be a National Monument, it was built in 1812 by architect Francisco Xavier Fabri, by order of Bishop Francisco Gomes. It features a neoclassical facade and its interior has a horseshoe arch that used to belong to the Arab walls. The external facade has a niche with the image of St. Thomas of Aquinas.
From here, Rua do Município leads us to the majestic Largo da Sé, flanked by the cathedral and several palaces - including the former Bishop’s palace - decorated with orange trees.
Rua de Santo António
Rua de Santo António became famous, with an undisguised prominence from the late 1940s, when trade and bank branches were transferred from the former Rua Direita (current Rua Manuel Bivar) to Rua de Santo António.
With the opening of the new city entrance, through the current Rua Teófilo da Trindade, traffic began to move towards downtown, converging to Rua de Santo António, as the centre of the city’s economic activities.
Later, in the 1970s, Rua de Santo António would be closed to traffic, covering its cobblestone floor and converting it to a pedestrian street. This was a success for the city’s commercial activities, lasting almost until the end of the 20th century.
If you want to shop for handicrafts, savour the traditional regional sweets and shop in a variety of fashion and perfume shops, everything within walking distance, this is the area to visit.
Faro’s Cathedral, or “Sé”, was built on top of a Roman Forum turned mosque, when the area was returned by Muslims to Christians in 1249. Today, with its mix of Renaissance and Baroque influences, Faro’s Cathedral offers its visitors an impressive glimpse, especially thanks to its 17th and 18th century tiles, decorated with Renaissance and Baroque gold leaf, extensively remodeled after the earthquake of 1755.
You can also climb to the top of the church tower - towards the church bells - and enjoy a breathtaking view over the old town and the water channel system of the Ria Formosa Natural Park.
The Faro Museum collection is currently divided into 30 collections, with close to 12,500 inventoried items. The museum collections fall into two categories: historical-archaeological and monographic. The first includes mostly the collections of archaeology and ancient painting; the second type comes from donations from private collections and has a range of diverse objects. In 2005, the museum received the Best Portuguese Museum Award for 2002-2005, awarded by the Portuguese Museology Association.
Carmo Church & Chapel of Bones
Carmo Church is one of the most important aesthetic manifestations of the religious and artistic heritage of the Algarve region. Founded in 1713 by Bishop António Pereira da Silva, who bought the land and opened in 1719, Carmelite Father Friar Manuel da Conceição, from Lisbon, was responsible for the initial project.
In mid-century, the building underwent major renovation and expansion works and the original façade was destroyed. The new façade was designed by mason master Diogo Gonçalves, in 1747. The works lasted until 1878 (namely with the construction of the façade towers). There are some features inside the Church worth mentioning, such as the Baroque organ, the ornamentation of the sacristy, the imaginary acquis of the Procession of Triumph and, in the Church yard, a Chapel of Bones.
The Theatre is named after a mythical river, whose waters had the magical power of erasing the memories of life’s setbacks and hardships of those who drank it. The theater, built in 1605, as São Tiago Maior of the Jesuits College, was founded by then Bishop of the Algarve Fernando Martins Mascarenhas. Today, it’s one of the oldest (Theatre) Halls in the Country.
Ria Formosa - A natural paradise
Ria Formosa is a marsh in the Algarve, stretching through the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António, covering almost 18,400 hectares along 60 kilometres, from Ancão river to Manta Rota beach. Given the role is plays and its natural beauty of habitats, it was considered one of the most beautiful parks in the Algarve.
The south area is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a dune cord that runs almost parallel to the continental shore, formed by two peninsulas (the Ancão Peninsula, which includes Ancão beach and Faro beach; and the Cacela Peninsula, which includes Cacela Velha beach and Fábrica beach) and five sandy barrier islands (Barreta Island, Culatra Island, Armona Island, Tavira Island and Cabanas Island), serving as protection for a vast area of marshland, canals and inlets.
To the North, through its entire extension, the end of the lagoon does not have a precise delimitation, since it is cropped by salt fields, small sandy beaches, by firm fertile land and by fresh water streams that flow into it (the rivers Seco and Gilão and the streams São Lourenço, Marim, Mosqueiros, Almargem and Cacela).
In order to appreciate the Ria Formosa in all its glory, we suggest a boat tour along the Ria to discover the Armona, Culatra and Farol islands.