After the Phoenicians and Carthaginians, Faro boomed as the Roman port Ossonoba. During the Moorish occupation, it became the cultured capital of an 11th-century principality.
Afonso III took the town in 1249 (the last major Portuguese town to be recaptured from the Moors), and walled it.
Portugal’s first printed works – books in Hebrew made by a Jewish printer – came from Faro in 1487.
A city from 1540, Faro’s brief golden age slunk to a halt in 1596, during Spanish rule. Troops under the Earl of Essex, en route to England from Spain in 1597, plundered the city, burned it and carried off hundreds of priceless theological works from the bishop’s palace, now part of the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Battered Faro was rebuilt, poking its head over the parapet only to be shattered by an earthquake in 1722 and then almost flattened in the 1755 big one. Most of what you see today is postquake, though the historic centre largely survived. In 1834 it became the Algarve’s capital.
Faro is the gateway for those arriving by plane and welcoming us in its living room, the Manuel Bívar Garden, the place where everything happens overlooking the marina, Ria Formosa and the sea.
Arco da Vila gives access to the old part of the city, known as the “village inside”. Inside is the 11th century Arab Gate, the oldest horseshoe arch in the country, which was the entrance to the walls for those arriving by sea. From here comes a tangle of streets worth visiting and discovering its nooks and crannies. Many of the archaeological finds that testify to the city's history are in the Municipal Museum housed in the 16th century Nossa Senhora da Assunção Convent.
In the Largo da Sé dominated by the buildings of the Episcopal Palace, there is the Cathedral erected in 1251, after the Christian reconquest, in the place previously occupied by the mosque. Inside, one of the most remarkable ensembles of the 17th and 18th centuries of the Algarve, a time that is also well represented in the Church of São Francisco with beautiful gilded carvings and tiles. Nearby are the two albarrã towers that protected the Resting Arch, so-called, because according to history, it was here that King D. Afonso III rested during the conquest of Faro.
Outside the perimeter of the walls, there is a different city, renovated after the 1755 earthquake by a wealthy nobility and bourgeoisie, which finds itself in wealthy houses and palaces or the romantic Lethes Theater. Also noteworthy are the Church of Nossa Senhora do Carmo and the Church of St. Peter, with decoration in Baroque and Rococo taste.
Rua de Santo António, paved with Portuguese pavement is exclusively for pedestrians and the hub of the busiest area with many shops and restaurants. It was here that in the nineteenth century an influential Jewish community was established, whose presence is witnessed in the Synagogue and Museum in the Jewish Historical Cemetery.
Back at Manuel Bívar Garden, there is nothing like cooling off with a drink while resting on one of the terraces next to the ria. And if it's time for a meal, you should look for a restaurant to taste the culinary delights, such as fish and seafood cooked in cataplana, a typical copper utensil from the Algarve, which is also believed to be of Arab origin.
And since we are facing Ria Formosa, we should not miss the opportunity to know it better. Classified as a Natural Park, this lagoon system has a vast area of marshland, canals and islets where you can observe various species of migratory birds. On the long sand line that separates the ria from the sea are quiet beaches such as the islands of Faro, Farol, Culatra and Deserta. From the quay of the New Gate depart regular careers and other boats that take walks in the ria, and take us to these places where relaxation is a must.