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Faro Travel guide

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Faro is the capital of the Algarve. As the largest, busiest and one of the oldest of the region's towns, it is concerned mostly with the serious business of provincial administration, trade and commerce. Faro is the southernmost city of Portugal, lying on the Atlantic coast near Cape Santa Maria.
It is the administrative centre for the whole of the Algarve region with a population in excess of 40.000 thousand people.

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Travel Guide

Held by the Moors from early in the 8th century until 1249, the city was the last Moorish stronghold in Portugal. During the 500 years occupation there were some Jewish inhabitants in Faro who were busily printing copies of the Old Testament. The English sacked it in 1596 on their journey to the Holy Land and the collection of books taken from the palace of the Bishop of Faro became part of the Bodlean Library in Oxford, England. The city has both Arab and Roman ruins but most of the present attractive older buildings were constructed after the disastrous earthquake of 1755 and the earlier one of 1532.

Judging by what archaeologists find the Romans were a clean and holy lot. The ruins at Milreu near Estoi to the north of Faro include a bathhouse and a temple. The pagan temple is unusual since it dates from the 4th century AD when many Romans were already converted to Christianity. This was a large villa, which must have belonged to a wealthy family. There are mosaic pavements including one showing fish with very curious faces. For a long time this was thought to be the site of the Roman city of Ossonoba. But spectacular discoveries beneath the city of Faro have shown that Ossonoba occupied the same coastal site as today’s city. Ossonoba was important enough to have its own mint where coins were struck.

Today Faro’s primary economic activity is Agriculture, and it exports fish, wine, sumac (for tanning), and fruit. The district is also popular with tourists because of its mild climate, fine beaches, and Moorish-looking towns. Henry the Navigator chose the district as a base for his expeditions in the 15th century, which sailed from ports near Faro city.

Faro Sights, sightseeing, culture:

Travel Guide

The importance of Faro is as the capital of the Algarve province. The civil governor and all the other government offices so honoured in this Mecca of bureaucracy are based here. The business of government blesses Faro with a permanence and stability apart from the seasonal rush of tourism.

Stroll beneath the palm trees, which line the old harbour wall to arrive at a gate into the old walled city. Narrow streets lead to a square set with orange trees. By custom the oranges were sold for the poor of the city and it was a crime to take the fruit.

The walls stayed from Roman times and surround the old city with its quiet, cobbled streets and its 16th-, 17th- and-18th century buildings. Very attractive is the small, 13th Century Cathedral, the Sé, probably built on the site of a Moorish mosque. It was destroyed during the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, but some of its Gothic and Renaissance features have survived. It faces the 18th Century Episcopal palace, as well as the 16th Century convent of Nossa Senhora da Assunηγo, that is now turned into the home of the city’s archaeological and lapidary museum, full of fascinating artefacts from prehistoric to modern times. The statue of Dom Alfonso III is standing in front of this building, in a small square. He conquered the last strongholds of the Moors in Portugal in the 13th century. There is another statue of Bishop Francisco Gomes, who co-ordinated the rebuilding of Faro after it was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1755. The town hall is also worth a look.

Next to the small boat basin bordering the Praηa de Dom Francisco Gomes is a Naval Museum composed of scale model boats and galleons showing the maritime history of the coast. The Ethnological Museum gives an insight into the traditional lifestyles of the region.

The most lavishly adorned of Faro churches is the “golden” church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo. It is claimed to be the best example of gold-leaf woodwork in southern Portugal. The “golden” church contains a bone chapel with the skeletal remains of over 1.200 former monks. An inscription over the doorway translates to: "Stop here and think of the fate that will befall you."

After exploring the old historic city return to the present day city centre where it is a delight to sit and watch the world go by at a pavement café. Much of the city is now composed of apartments and there are many attractive shops and a particularly artistic theatre. Faro is also the home of the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature reserve of over 17.000 hectares and a stopping place for hundreds of different birds during the spring and autumn migratory periods. The beach is almost 7 kilometres distant from the city and is a long sandy spit reached by crossing a bridge not far from the International Airport. The municipal council has an active cultural department organising different and various events during the year.

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