Great food, great beaches, great weather. This, without fail, is part of every single newcomer’s answer whenever I pose the question: “what attracted you to the Algarve in the first place?” It doesn’t surprise me since as a native, every year I see our streets flooded with thousands of tourists from all corners of the world, drawn by our year-round sunny weather, breathtaking coastal views and heavenly Mediterranean food. I always thought that it was this idyllic lifestyle that made many foreigners chose to upgrade the Algarve from vacation destination to their home; but when I began asking some of them why they stayed, there hasn’t been anyone that didn’t respond with: “the people.” Many of the characteristics that I associate with my culture come from its history. One of the many beauties of the South of Portugal lies in how the population responded to the hardships and the many invasions that it has suffered since its beginnings. Instead of becoming closed off, and protective of what it’s ours; we instead became warm, generous and welcoming in all of our trademark laid-back glory. The Capital of the Algarve, Faro, is filled with amazing historical marks, which showcase the region’s rich heritage.
Muralhas the Faro (Walls of Faro)
Muralhas de Faro
The Muralhas de Faro surround the oldest urban part of the city, which we call the Cidade Velha (Old City) or Vila-Adentro. The coolest part of the walls, in my opinion, is that they oversaw the city through most of its history. I remember learning in high school that some of its structure dates to even before the Roman invasion, meaning that it is well over 2000 years old. It was built over and recovered over the centuries by the Visigoth, the Romans, the Moors, and the Portuguese. It has elements from all of them. It was also severely damaged during the English invasion in 1596 and due to the devastating earthquake in 1755. It’s truly incredible that something that natives and tourists alike pass through every single day, was present during almost every single important event of the city’s history; as well as outlasted everyone alive today by well over a thousand years. Nowadays it’s right by bars, restaurants, and shops; creating this juxtaposition of modern and ancient.
Arco do Repouso (The Arch of Rest)
Arco do Repouso
Throughout his history, the Algarve has been occupied by an extremely varied array of civilizations and religions. From Celts to Visigoths, the Romans to the Moors; the Portuguese conquest, the Jewish rise, the Catholicism take over, the English invasion, the French invasion, and so many more in between. My favorite thing about the region is that all of them left their mark somehow. Despite the Algarve having been taken away from the Moors during the 13th century, marks of the Islamic stunning architecture can be seen all over town. The Arco do Repouso, which gives entrance to the inside of the walls is associated with the Christian conquest of the city from the Moors in 1249. There is a local legend, which claims that during the Moor’s rule, there was a Christian knight and a Moor Princess who fell in Love. The Knight took advantage of her love, and one day convinced her to let more knights inside the walls through the arch where they met at night. The Knights took over the town and she was accused of treason by her father who cast a spell condemning her to forever stay in that Arch.
The Igreja Do Carmo (Carmo’s Church)
Igreja do Carmo
The Igreja do Carmo is always a winner for the lovers of architecture. Even if you don’t feel like going inside and experiencing the intricate gilded woodwork, you can just stand and appreciate the beautiful exterior that had to be rebuilt after the giant earthquake destroyed most of it. As a matter of fact, just by looking down at your feet you’ll see a wonderful example of the quintessential Portuguese stonework. Behind it, however, is what most people want to see: The Capela dos Ossos.
Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones)
Capela dos Ossos
It definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted. In fact, thanks to this place, I can pinpoint the exact moment I first became truly aware that I, just like everyone I loved, was going to die. I was taken here on a primary school trip and walked the bone lined walls while my teacher explained that the skulls adorning this eerily beautiful chapel, were not only real but had once belonged to over 1200 Roman Carmelite monks whose remains had been exhumed from Faro’s overcrowded cemetery. And if that isn’t enough to make you filled with macabre ponderings of your own mortality, at the entrance of the Chapel there is an inscription, which reads: “Pára aqui para considerar que a este estado hás-de chegar” (Stop here to consider that you will too reach this state). Needless to say, once my parents picked me up, they were greeted with an inconsolable 7-year-old and a wave of uncomfortable questions. It’s said that it is supposed to serve as a reminder that our lives are fleeting, and we should strive for goodness while we live it. If you’re into morbid landmarks, I would definitely recommend you schedule a visit for its ghoulish appeal; just maybe don’t bring any kids with you.
Museu municipal de Faro (Faro Municipal Museum)
Museu Municipal de Faro
I decided to include the Museum, especially for those who want to experience the history of the city but are traveling with young ones who don’t really understand what’s so interesting about an arch or a half-destroyed wall. It’s one of the oldest museums in the Algarve and one of my favorite places to go as a kid. It’s stunning, fun for all ages, and will walk you through the history and landmarks of the city from its beginnings to modern days. I’m always an advocate for experiencing cities first-hand, but checking it out before strolling through town, will definitely give you a better understanding and appreciation for what you see. (Tip: there’s free entry for all every Sunday until 2.30 pm in the winter and until 3.30 pm in the summer). It’s worth to mention that these are only a minuscule sample of historical landmarks available in Faro. With a Region as old and full of culture as the Algarve, there is still a whole world of wonders to explore.