The capital of the Algarve and home to Faro Airport, the Algarve's only international airport, Faro is a city surrounded by island beaches and Ria Formosa nature reserve, it really is an extra special city!
The foundations of Faro started in Roman times, when the town was called Ossonoba. During the 9th century it was the capital of a short lived princedom, ringed with defensive walls and later the name changed to Santa Maria then to Harune. Finally in the middle of the 13th century Faro became part of Portuguese territory, completing the Christian reconquest of Portugal. In 1540 Faro was made a city and in 1577 became the site of the Episcopal Sé when the Bishop of the Algarve moved from Silves to Faro.
Faro, capital city of the Algarve, offers so much more than just a landing point in Portugal. It is a city full of history, great shops, restaurants and cafes aplenty, theatres and galleries, great beaches and the Ria Formosa nature reserve on the door step. The central area is really quite compact with everything within easy walking distance.
'Cidade Velha' - the oldest part of the city - is on the eastern side of Faro marina. Walk through the arch (Arco da Vila) by the Algarve tourist information office at the end of the Manuel Bivar gardens and follow the narrow, cobbled street, Rua do Municipio into the tree lined Largo de Sé. Faro Cathedral, in the middle of the square, may not look very grand from the outside, but inside is another story - the intricate gilded carving, decorated tiles (azulejos) and works of art are well worth seeing. It originates from the 13th/14th centuries (although much of the inside decoration is 17th century) and, despite having to be repaired after being ransacked and set alight by the Earl of Essex's men in 1596 and damaged in the earthquake of 1755, still has the original doorway and two original chapels.
View from the Sé Cathedral of the 'tesouro' roofs, Episcopal Palace and marinaIf you don't mind a bit of a climb, walk up the steps in the tower and get a tremendous view of Faro and the other buildings in the square - it's a good chance to get a birds eye view of the typically Portuguese pyramid shaped roofs (tesouro) on the 17th century Episcopal Palace (which is in the square facing the Cathedral.) The Palace is still the official residence of the Bishop of Faro so is not open to the public.
The building along the adjoining side of the square is the Episcopal Seminary that was built at the request of the then Bishop of the Algarve, Francisco Gomes de Avelar, during the 18th-19th centuries. The Bishop was also one of the main people (with the backing of the Marquis of Pombal), who did much to restore the city of Faro after the earthquake and his statue stands in one corner of the Largo de Sé.
Porta Nova pier (just around the corner from Faro marina) - where the ferries and boat trips leave fromOutside of the 'Cidade Velha', following the water front around the corner from Faro marina, is Porta Nova pier where you can get a ferry to the ilha beaches. We thoroughly enjoyed the boat ride through the Ria Formosa - about a 30 minute trip each way - gently pottering through the calm waters in between the marshy outcrops, spotting a few birds along the way and generally watching the world go by. Also a chance to get another view of Faro - from the seaward side.