Faro

Faro has been the capital of the Algarve for centuries and has retained its monumental heritage that gives it character and identity. Protected by a long dune cord where the beaches are bright sand, the city is located in the center of the Ria Formosa, an intricate complex of stretches and lagoons, with a thriving biological diversity. Birds, shellfish, and countless species of fish live here, in an area classified as natural park.

Of pre-Roman origin, known at the time as Ossónoba, Faro was one of the most important urban centers in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. The city features Arab and Roman ruins, but most of the oldest buildings were built after the disastrous earthquake of 1755.

The city also has a marina, well-tandared parks and squares and the old town full of outdoor cafes and pedestrian areas. In addition to its museums and beautiful churches and chapels, Faro also boasts a vibrant nightlife. Rua de Santo António, the main pedestrian street, is the best option for handicraft shopping, to taste traditional regional sweets and to shop.

The Manuel Bívar Garden facing the Marina, is an ex-libris of the city, with several terraces where you can enjoy the mild climate and is surrounded by a remarkable set of buildings, highlighting the Arch of the Village, main entrance to “Vila Adentro” the historic centre.

Near the garden is the nightlife area of the city, commonly called “Crime Street”, which consists of some streets and alleys, with a diversity of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and cafes that animate faro’s nights.

Vila Adentro

This is the original core of the city of Faro, fully surrounded by the 16th century wall. Here is the oldest building in the city, the main Cathedral, (Sé Catedral) built in 1251, with its wonderful altarbules and the impressive 18th-century organ with chinoiserie motifs. From its bell tower, you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city and the Ria Formosa. Adjacent to this building is the Chapel of Bones.

The Palace and the Episcopal Seminary, respectively the residence and place of formation of the Clergy, surround the Largo da Sé. Its “scissor roofs” (open scissor-shaped roofs) and whitewashed facades, associated with the orange trees that adorn this public space, transport us to the urban landscapes of a Mediterranean paradise.

As we walk through the irregular streets of Vila Adentro, we find the Municipal Museum of Faro in the former convent of Nossa Senhora da Asunción, with proto-Renaissance cloisters. Right in the center of Vila Adentro is the building of the Municipality of Faro, where the administrative power of the municipality is located.

Faro has an excellent natural scenery on the beaches next to the Ria Formosa for the practice of water sports such as kite surfing, canoeing, windsurfing, rowing and bird watching, providing unique moments in contact with nature.

You can easily reach the Algarve from anywhere in Europe and Faro has a privileged location, due to the proximity of Faro Airport. 4 km from the center. Buses and trains also reach the city..

The city of Faro, the political and administrative capital of the Algarve, holds most of the administrative services in the region. Faro took on its cosmopolitan vocation at the opening of its international airport in 1965. Today, thanks to the increase in tourist demand throughout the Algarve, the city has the second busiest airport in Portugal behind the airport in Lisbon, with a movement of more than 9 million passengers per year.

By the end of the 19th century the city remained within the boundaries of the 16th Century Fence. Its gradual growth has undergoing greater momentum in recent decades.

Faro remains is the southernmost city and seat of the district of the same name, in the Algarve region of southern Portugal since 1756.

The Ria Formosa lagoon attracted humans from the Paleolithic age until the end of prehistory. The first settlements date from the fourth century BC, during the period of Phoenician colonization of the western Mediterranean. At the time, the area was known as Ossonoba, and was the most important urban centre of southern Portugal and commercial port for agricultural products, fish, and minerals.

Between the second and eighth centuries, the city was under the domain of the Romans, then the Byzantines, and later Visigoths, before being conquered by the Moors in 713. With the advent of Moorish rule in the eighth century, Ossonoba retained its status as the most important town in the southwest corner of the Iberian Peninsula.

In the 9th century, it became the capital of a short-lived princedom and was fortified with a ring of defensive walls. At this time, in the 10th century, the name Santa Maria began to be used instead of Ossonoba. By the 11th century, the town was known as Santa Maria Ibn Harun.

During the 500 years of Moorish rule, some Jewish residents of Faro made written copies of the Old Testament. One of Faro’s historical names in Arabic is ʼUḫšūnubaḧ. The Moors were defeated and expelled in 1249 by the forces of the Portuguese King Afonso III. After the Christian Regain, Faro took over the role of administration of the Algarve area.

Following the conquest by D. Afonso III, in 1249, the Portuguese referred to the town as Santa Maria de Faaron or Santa Maria de Faaram. In the following years, the town became prosperous, due to its secure port and exploitation of salt. Consequently, by the beginning of the Portuguese Age of Discovery, the town was well positioned to become a leading commercial centre.

In the 14th century, the Jewish community began to grow in importance. In 1487, Samuel Gacon began printing the Pentateuch in Hebrew, the first book printed in Portugal, but this level of prosperity was interrupted in December 1496 by an edict of Manuel I of Portugal, expelling those who did not convert to Christianity.

The king Manuel I promoted the development and expansion of the city; 1499 had the construction of a hospital, near the shoreline.

By 1540, king John III of Portugal had elevated Faro to the status of city, then in 1577, the bishopric of the Algarve was transferred from Silves, to the present Diocese of Faro.

In 1596, the city was sacked by English privateers led by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. The resultant fires damaged the walls, churches, and other buildings. At the same time, English troops seized the library of the Bishop of Faro, then Fernando Martins de Mascarenhas, which became part of the collection of the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Among the looted books was the first printed book in Portugal: a Torah in local Hebrew (Judeo-Español), printed by Samuel Gacon at his workshop in Faro.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the city was expanded, with a series of walls during the period of the Restoration Wars (1640-1668), encompassing the semicircular front to the Ria Formosa lagoon. But this all changed with the 1755 earthquake. It affected many settlements across the Algarve, including Faro, which suffered damage to churches, convents, and the Episcopal palace, in addition to the walls, castle towers and bulwarks, barracks, guardhouses, warehouses, customs houses, and prison.

Much of the greater devastation across the coastal and lowland regions was caused by a tsunami, which dismantled fortresses and razed homes. Almost all the coastal towns and villages of the Algarve were heavily damaged by the tsunami, except Faro, protected by the sandy banks of the Ria Formosa lagoon. Faro becomes the administrative seat of the region the following year, 1756.

Faro is in the heart of the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve, whose barrier islands offer long beaches, some of them deserted with excellent places to enjoy contact with nature, on boat trips, by bike or on foot. There is much more to discover on this protected area. Come along and get acquainted with this paradise in the Algarve.

In the protected areas, silence is rewarded by the marulhar of the waves, and the singing of birds, who share with humans these beautiful spaces of the coast.

 

The beaches are located between the Ancão Peninsula, which locals call Faro Island and Culatra Island, along the extensive sandy cord. Faro Beach and Barrinha Beach are located on the Ancão Peninsula and stretch for kilometres. Barreta Beach is located in Desert Island and Lighthouse Beach, Culatra Beach are both located on Culatra Island.

The beaches of the municipality of Faro are in a region of Mediterranean climate, with semiarid characteristics, with a prolonged dry season, during the summer months, and with a relatively mild winter.

The Ria Formosa is a complex aquatic ecosystem, consisting of a system of barrier islands, lagoons and canals. The barrier islands constitute the coastal sandy cord that separate the inland waters (Ria Formosa) from the Atlantic Ocean.

It is one of the most amazing places of the Algarve, not only for its variety of landscapes but also because of its unique location. This is a unique coastal lagoon which is constantly changing due to the continuous movement of winds, currents and tides.

Classified as a Natural Park in 1987, Ria Formosa encompasses an area of about 18 000 hectares, and 60km along the coast. and is protected from the sea by 5 barrier-islands and 2 peninsulas: the Peninsula of Ancão that the locals call Ilha de Faro, the Barreta Island also known as Ilha Deserta, the Culatra Island (where the lighthouse of Santa Maria is located), the Island of Armona, the Island of Tavira, Cabanas Island and, finally, the Peninsula of Cacela.

This awesome area extends along the leeward coast of the Algarve through the municipalities of Loulé, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and Vila Real de Santo António.

Due to these natural features and its geographical location it was included in the list of wetlands of world-wide interest defined by the Ramsar Convention. One may witness many different habitas such as barrier-islands, marshes, tidal flats, islets, dunes, saltpans, fresh water lagoons, agricultural areas and woodlands which hold a an impressive diversity of flora and fauna.

A paradise for birdwatchers, Ria Formosa is considered an important bird area (IBA) and is part of the Natura 2000 Network. This is one of the most important areas for aquatic birds in Portugal, hosting on a regular basis more than 20,000 birds during the wintering period.

The area is also very important as stop-over point in the migration routes between Europe and Africa and it provides shelter for rare species in Portugal such as the Purple Swamphen, the symbol of this Natural Park and for other emblematic species like the colorful flamingos.

On this Nature Park we can find other species such as the chameleon – a reptile that only exists in the south of Portugal and the seahorse, where we have one of the largest populations of seahorses in the world.  Is also known for the Portuguese Water Dog, a breed native from the Algarve and almost threatened with extinction some decades ago.

Due to its shallow waters, the lagoon is also a nursery in such several oceanic species. Shellfish farming is also a very economic activity in the tidal flats of the Ria Formosa. This extremely hard labour is responsible for nearly 80% of the Portuguese delicious clams production.