Faro--Its Sights, Its Life

Portugal, Faro Guide (A): Faro--Its Sights, Its Life

Enjoyed by all ages, this walk combines historical and contemporary points of interest, giving you a feel for the city, its history and people. Explore the medieval walls of the Old City, a chapel of human bones, the marketplace, and Alameda Garden, where you can feed the pigeons and peacocks that roam freely. Visit intricately tiled and gilded churches and a museum where you can enter into a world of Portuguese legends.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Faro--Its Sights, Its Life
Guide Location: Portugal » Faro
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: Doca de Recreio de Faro (Faro Marina)   Igreja de São Pedro (St. Peter´s Church)   Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Church of Our Lady of Carmo)   Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market)   Jardim da Alameda João de Deus (Alameda Garden)   Arco do Repouso (Gateway of Rest)   Museu Municipal (Municipal Museum)   Sé de Faro (Cathedral of Faro)   Arco da Vila (Gateway of the City)  
Author: Joy Hardwick
Author Bio: Born (but not bred) in Alabama, I fell in love with travel during childhood. Growing up in Dubai, and later, Egypt, I developed a passion for experiencing different cultures. I prefer the backpacking style to 4-star hotels and tour buses, as I believe it provides more room for exploration, giving you a real feel for a place. For the past 16 years, I have been living in Portugal with my 10-year-old daughter. I hope to share some of the jewels which I have found here.
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Doca de Recreio de Faro (Faro Marina)

1) Doca de Recreio de Faro (Faro Marina)

At the heart of the city, Faro Marina is the perfect point of reference to orient yourself. If you stand at the top corner of the marina, with your back to the marina and facing the roundabout, in front of you to the right is the square known as Jardim Manuel Bivar, where during the summer, open air market stalls line the center. Further along, at the end of the square, is the Arco da Vila, or archway leading into the historic Old City; next door to the arch is the tourist office. Along the side of the square opposite the marina are the cobbled streets of the pedestrian area, filled with small boutiques, shops, restaurants and cafés.

Shifting your gaze to the left, to the other side of the roundabout, is a labyrinth of narrow backstreets containing the heat and beat of Faro nightlife, particularly popular among the university students. At the marina itself, a bandstand remains set up during the summer months and live music for all ages frequently lasts late into the night.
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Igreja de São Pedro (St. Peter´s Church)

2) Igreja de São Pedro (St. Peter´s Church)

Spurred by the growth of towns during the Portuguese Maritime Expansion of the 15th century, and the continuing commercial and urban development of the 16th century, Faro was elevated to the status of "city." It was during this period of growth and commerce that the Igreja de São Pedro was built in the late 16th century. The simple façade of this church hides a surprisingly ornate and splendid interior, adorned with intricate wood carvings gilded with gold brought over from Brazil. Like other churches of this period, little remains of the chapel´s original ornamentation and architecture. Following the earthquake of 1755, profound modifications were made to the chapel, and much of what you see is from the 18th and 19th centuries. The secularization of the nearby convents during the Age of Liberalism resulted in the incorporation into this church of diverse painted tiles and processional and altarpiece carvings from the convents. Of particular interest are the chapels on the side walls of the church, especially the Capela do Santissimo Sacramento, or Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, showing an impressive commemoration of the Last Supper; also the beautifully tiled Capela das Almas, or Chapel of Souls, depicting St. Francis, the Virgin, and other saints seeking to liberate the souls in purgatory. Visiting hours are weekdays 8:30 to 12:30 and 3:00 to 7:00; on Saturday visits are permitted in the morning hours only; the church remains closed to visitors on Sundays. Entrance is free.
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Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Church of Our Lady of Carmo)

3) Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo (Church of Our Lady of Carmo)

This early 18th-century church, in both aesthetic and religious terms, is one of the most important buildings in the Algarve. Founded in 1712 by the Bishop Dom António Pereira da Silva, the first stone was laid in February of 1714, and five years later, in 1719, the church, now ready for service, was blessed by the Bishop Dom José Pereira de Lacerda. In July of this same year, a procession carried the image of Nossa Senhora do Carmo from the Capela da Esperança, or Chapel of Hope, to the newly finished church. Having been partially destroyed in the 1755 earthquake, the building was largely remodeled, in particular, the façade of the building, which had been completely destroyed, and the new façade was not completed until 1878, due mainly to work on the two towers. The markedly baroque interior is exceptionally rich in gilded carvings, which, like most ornamentation of the period, was accomplished with Brazilian gold. Through the doors at the rear of the church is the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones, constructed of the tibia and skulls of thousands of monks as a reminder of the impermanence of earthly things. Visiting hours are weekdays 8:30 to 12:30 and 3:00 to 7:00. On Saturdays, visitors are permitted in the morning hours only; the church remains closed to visitors on Sundays. Entrance to the church is free; however there is a 1€ admission fee to enter the Chapel of Bones; children under 12 enter free.
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Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market)

4) Mercado Municipal (Municipal Market)

The Mercado Municipal houses the city´s traditional open-air market, with its stalls of fresh meat, fish, produce, and other typical Portuguese fare, like cheeses, olives, chouriços, bread, and other sweet and savoury goods. Through the 1990s, supermarkets still were few and far between, and daily shopping for the evening meal still was done at the city market. Although supermarkets have spread like plague in the past decade, these municipal markets still exist today and many continue to do their daily shopping here. Built on the site of the city´s original open air market, today´s market has been fully renovated and is now indoors, after plans approved in 2001 to meet new EU standards of hygiene. As our next stop along the route is the Jardim de Alameda, this is an excellent opportunity to purchase some olives, cheeses, and bread for a picnic in the shaded garden. Children will enjoy the pasteis de bacalhau (cod fish cakes) which also are available at the market. If you´re wanting more immediate refreshment, choose from one of the many cafés which form the outside wall of the market. If you´re there at lunch time, most of these have special plates of the day available at very reasonable prices. Like most fresh produce markets around the world, stalls begin closing around lunch time. Official hours are daily, from 7:00 until 3:00.
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Jardim da Alameda João de Deus (Alameda Garden)

5) Jardim da Alameda João de Deus (Alameda Garden)

Popular with both the younger and the older generations of Faro, the Jardim da Alameda is a beautiful garden, recreational area, and mini arboretum. As you enter through the rear gate of the garden, you will find a children´s playground area and toilets on your right. Past the playground, at the end of the park is a mini golf course; a real bargain at under 1€ per person. Almost directly ahead of you as you enter the park is an especially dense area of foliage, with stone floors and benches and a water feature . . . well worth a look as it is reminiscent of something out of Lord of the Rings. Also here in the center of the garden is a café, where you can buy sacks of corn (milho) to feed the pigeons and peacocks which roam freely. The peacocks normally hang out in the area behind the café, near the turtle pond and fountain. As you stroll through the footpaths, notice the plaques placed near trees; many of the trees growing here have been imported from other countries around the world. A note when you are ready to leave the garden--exit by the gate opposite the mini golf course, which will put you directly in front of the police station.
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Arco do Repouso (Gateway of Rest)

6) Arco do Repouso (Gateway of Rest)

This ancient arch, dating back to the Arab Age of the 12th century, provides access into the medieval walls constructed by a Muslim prince as a defense against Christian invasion. Around this archway are some of the wall´s oldest sections, constructed by the Portuguese King Afonso III as improvements on the Moorish defenses after the city was reclaimed by the Portuguese in the second half of the 13th century. Two legends surround the naming of the Arco do Repoouse, or Gateway of Rest. The first has it that the troops of King Dom Afonso III rested here after winning the city back from the Arabs in 1249. A second legend tells of the daughter of an Arab governor, a Moorish girl, who falls in love with one of the Christian knights after the conquest; the father is so enraged that he bewitches the girl, who dies and is laid to rest at this spot. Through this gateway, you enter into a truly ancient city, dating back to the 2nd Iron Age, around the 4th century, during the Roman Empire. Artefacts found at archaeological excavations at the Largo de Sé, the square which features the Sé, the city´s cathedral, prove that commercial contact was maintained with North Africa at least between the 2nd half of the 4th century and the 3rd century. With the arrival of the Romans during the days of the Roman empire, this ancient city became the capital of one of the Roman territories and was truly a cosmopolitan city, with affluent foreigners and businessmen arriving from North Africa and all over the Roman Empire. As you walk over the stones of these cobbled streets, imagining the people who walked these same GPS coordinates 2000 years ago, you can almost hear the ancient tongues echoing through the city. At our next stop, the Museu Municipal, be sure to visit the exhibit entitled "Paths of the Roman Algarve," where you can find artefacts dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
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Museu Municipal (Municipal Museum)

7) Museu Municipal (Municipal Museum)

The Museu Municipal is housed inside the 16th-century Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of the Assumption Convent), which had fallen into disuse in 1834 after the extinction of the religious order. Having been used as a cork factory in the 20th century, by 1960 work had begun to adapt the building to a museum. The museum is composed of both permanent and temporary exhibits. Of especial interest among its permanent exhibits are the ancient Roman artefacts displayed in the exhibit "Paths of the Roman Algarve: 2,000 Years Ago;" a 2nd-century mosaic of the Roman god Oceanus, which probably had formed part of a public building during the height of the Roman Empire, and which was found on a building site in Faro in 1976. Also is an exhibit of religious paintings from the 16th to 19th centuries. Of interest to all, and a hit with children, is the exhibit of impressionist paintings of the notable Portuguese painter Carlos Filipe Porfirio (1895-1970), depicting local legends. A translation card relating the legend in English is available at the exhibit, and children enjoy sitting in front of the paintings as the legend is read to them. At the far end of this exhibition room is a particularly striking painting of the famous legend of how the almond tree came to the Algarve. Every winter, in late January, the countryside and hills of the Algarve are abloom with almond blossoms, and this legend tells of how a prince married a foreign princess from a cold, northern land. Although the new couple were very happy together and much in love, the prince noticed a sadness about his bride in the winter. Learning that she was homesick for her own land, the prince had almond trees brought in and planted all around the castle walls, then each winter, the white almond blossoms would bloom to remind the princess of the snow in her native land. Admission to the museum is 2€ for adults and children under 12 enter free. Opening hours are Tues - Fri 10-6 and weekends 10:30-5. During the summer months, the museum opens at 11:30 on weekends and remains open until 6. The museum is closed on Mondays.
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Sé de Faro (Cathedral of Faro)

8) Sé de Faro (Cathedral of Faro)

The Sé, or city cathedral, has its origin dating back to the 13th century, although at that time it had not yet been elevated to the status of cathedral; it served only as a church, known as the Igreja de Santa Maria. Although no archaeological proof exists, it is generally believed that this building was erected on the foundations of an ancient mosque. In any event, the origins certainly date back to the 2nd half of the 13th century, when the Christians took back the city from the Moors. The building began a couple years following the conquest, in 1251, and in 1271, it was completed and given to the Military Order of São Tiago in recompense for the role they played in the conquest. Originally much smaller than it stands today, this church was the beneficiary of many other works of art and architectural additions over the next century, testifying to the importance of this church in the ecclesiastical community, and in 1577, the Igreja de Santa Maria was elevated to the status of cathedral. Unfortunately, the cathedral was victim of several devastating disasters, including the 1596 attack by Robert Devereux, 2nd count of Essex, and the earthquakes of 1722 and 1755, all of which resulted in profound structural and stylistic modifications to the earlier 15th-century building. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Sé was enriched with various works of gilded panels and tiles. Of particular note is the baroque organ, constructed around 1715. Interestingly, an identical organ to this one was sent to the Cathedral of Mariana, in Brazil, around 1750. From the bell tower, remodeled after the 1755 earthquake, you can catch some amazing views of the walled city and out to sea. There´s a 1€ admission fee to enter the bell tower, but the view makes both the fee and the climb well worth it. In the spring, if you´re lucky, you can even spot nesting storks. The Sé is open to visitors weekdays 8:30 until 12:30 and 3 to 7, and on Saturday mornings until noon. The church is closed to visitors on Sundays.
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Arco da Vila (Gateway of the City)

9) Arco da Vila (Gateway of the City)

The Arco da Vila, or Gateway of the City, is the last stop on this tour and brings us back to the Jardim Manuel Bivar and Faro Marina. As with the Arco do Repouso, the Arco da Vila dates back to the Arab reign of the 12th century, although the baroque façade of the arch, which we will see as we exit the Old City, in no way resembles the original 12th-century entrance. The arch we see today, constructed in the second half of the 18th century, exists thanks to the will of Bishop Dom Francisco Gomes do Avelar and the Italian architect Fabri. More authentic of the 12th-century archway is the portal, discovered in 1992, in the interior of the arch, and which was one of the primitive entrances to these Arab walls. Of note on the façade, just over the opening, is a marble statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the patron saints of Faro. According to legend, St. Thomas prevented the spread of plague among the city´s inhabitants.