Faro and vicinity


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Europe » Portugal » Algarve » Faro
August 15th 2015
Published: August 15th 2015
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Faro, the Algarve’s administrative capital, is a city of some 65,000 located about 30 miles (50 km) west of the Spanish border. Besides the usual buildings, stores, hotels and artisan shops, it is a fishing port, a railway hub, and the site of the International Airport, the University of the Algarve, and three museums. It has been occupied at least since Roman times, with the Moors developing it as a port starting in the 8thcentury. Most of the artifacts from those periods were destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 or periodic raids by booty-seeking crusaders and sea-borne raiders. Nevertheless, today there is still much to see and do.

The most interesting parts are those within the old 13th century walls beside the port, and the nearby pedestrian mall, which offers good shopping and restaurants. Within the walled “old city” beyond the decorative Arco da Vila are a tranquil square (originally a Roman forum), the stark 13th century fortress-cathedral of Santa María, the 18th century bishop’s palace, and the Archaeological Museum. Just outside the walls is a marine museum. A few blocks away is the famous Carmo Church, with tasteful baroque gold-leaf woodwork, and its attached Bone Chapel.

You may find the surrounding area more interesting than the city itself. Just offshore there is a string of barrier islands, where beach and water sports can be enjoyed, which can be reached by a bridge or a ferry from downtown. Some of the islands form a nature preserve, frequented by a variety of migratory birds. There are also many interesting places and events to visit nearby, but to my mind two are by far the most interesting: the baroque 17th century church in the parish of Almancil, and the Mardi Gras Carnival in the town of Loule.

São Lourenço church

This magnificent 1672 masterpiece stands on a hilltop outside the small town of Almancil. Every square inch ... walls, dome and ceiling ... is an artistic tribute to Saint Lawrence and the Bible. Thousands of 4 by 4 inch blue and white azulejo tiles were assembled, painted, fired, then set precisely in place as supreme acts of artistry and piety over a dozen years, starting in 1730. Since then they have been refurbished as needed, most recently in the late 1900s. When I first visited in 1986 it was just a simple parish church, and my wife and I were allowed to explore and take photos at leisure. Since then its tourist value has been discovered, so today there are tour guides and a small admission fee. To me this baroque labour of devotion is worth whatever fees are asked: it is absolutely unique!

Loule's Mardi Gras Carnival

A few miles west of the airport is the city of Loulé (c.70,000), famous for its fresh produce market and for its leather, wood and copper master craftsmen. According to local legend this was where Mardi Gras parades originated, then the tradition was carried from there to Brazil ... and the rest is history. This is one of Portugal’s best attended festivals, with the theme changing every year. On my first visit it was “A century of cinema”, representing a wide variety of movies: for my most recent visit it was "The World of Entertainment". Every year there is a parade with dozens of bands, dancers, specialty acts, and floats, and everyone gets involved. It’s mostly a family-oriented carnival, not a slick, gaudy extravaganza like those that have evolved in Rio and elsewhere. To fully appreciate it you should see my earlier blog at https://www.travelblog.org/Europe/Portugal/Algarve/blog-859635.html .


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15th August 2015
For one thing, it's famous as a 'home base' for storks

Great shot! Thanks for reminding me about the storks!
15th August 2015
The famous Bone Chapel was built in the 1800s from the bones of 1245 monks.

I think I was there but can't recall this chapel - how could one forget seeing that!
15th August 2015
São Lourenço parish church (1600s) near Almansil

Fantastic photo! I remember being here too ;o)
15th August 2015
Look who's leading one of the bands !

Who???
15th August 2015
By all means, don't miss the full article in the introductory text.

Our local tour did include the carnival which was fun!
15th August 2015

Faro - a place the British once tried to burn down
Having been to the area I find your pics of the inside of the various churches and chapels etc magnificent.
17th August 2015
Faro's austere 13th century fortress-cathedral, whose side chapels are baroque masterpieces.

Beautiful lighting!!
17th August 2015

What an incredible city!! The churches are beyond beautiful, such ornate and intricate architecture and decor. I had only ever heard of the bone church outside of Prague before so was surprised to see one here as well! No doubt an eerie visit to say the least. Love your collection of photos highlighting this region, my list of "Must-Travel" places is growing longer by the day :)

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