Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go on a guided walk around Faro. A ladies craft group that I am a member of, PALS, suggested that we meet up to do the walk with a small company that offers FREE guided walks of 2 hours around the city.
This is the first time I’ve really done a guided walk around a city as I’ve never been overly convinced that they add much value to a visit. I’ve spoken to several people who have been to Faro, enjoyed it, but not found it to be any more interesting than Albufeira, but I have to admit, having a guide really did add to the value of the walk and he was amazing. The walk lasted two hours and took us around the older parts of the city of Faro from the arrival of the first settlers in the 8th century BC right up to the modern day. Faro itself, has seen numerous name changes over the years dependent on who was in power at the time. It’s also seen invasion by Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians, and the influence of each is reflected in the architecture around the town. Obviously, being a Historian at heart, I loved every minute and especially hearing about key historical events from the point of view of the Portuguese. They have a totally different interpretation of the Spanish Armada, for example!
Obviously, I can’t include every aspect of a 2 hour walk in a short account, but there were a few points of interest that I’d like to share!
The vast majority of the city was destroyed in as part of the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, the epicentre being in Sagres, not Lisbon! Following that, the vast majority of the city was destroyed and rebuilt and much of the current architecture dates from that time. Buildings tend to by only 2 stories high as they are more likely to withstand the impact of an earthquake. Despite that, there is still evidence of the original city all around.
One aspect of the history of Faro, and Portugal that I was particularly interested in was that of the period 1467 to 1501. Very specific, you might say! That is the period of history I taught at A Level, specifically focussing on the history of Spain – from the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand in 1469 through to the death of Isabella in 1501. Why is this of interest, you might ask? Isabella and Ferdinand were experts at marrying their children into influential families across Europe. Katherine of Aragon, for example married King Arthur and then Henry VIII. Their eldest daughter (also Isabella) married Prince Afonso of Portugal who unfortunately died. She subsequently married Manuel I of Portugal – but would only agree to the union provided all Jews and Muslims were expelled from Portugal – heralding the arrival of the Spanish Inquisition in Portugal. Up until this point, all the various religious denominations had lived happily side-by-side.
Every town I have visited in Portugal has a street named 25th April. Obviously, I worked out quite early on that this must have some significant meaning – but didn’t know what. It is the day of the revolution in 1974 when the dictatorship that had gripped Portugal since 1930 finally came to an end. This is also known as the Carnation Revolution, due to how peaceful it was. I was quite surprised that the dictatorship had lasted so long, and also, that it had only ended relatively recently. Portugal is a very young democracy – which might also explain why some aspects of the country and its infrastructure seem so backward in many regards.
The beginning of the revolution was heralded by the playing of a song, ‘Grandola, Vila Morena’ written by Zeca Afonso. A number of his songs were banned under the dictatorship as he was vociferous in his opposition and so once his music began to be heard again, that sent the signal that things were beginning to change. His house still stands in Faro and is currently undergoing renovation, and a portrait of him is painted on a wall in Lisbon. There is an alternative version! 1974 was the year that Cliff Richard won the Eurovision Song Contest and that the song to herald the start of the revolution was, in fact, ‘Congratulations’. Now, I could be biased, but I know which version I believe!
Another sweet story that we learned on our walk was the history of the prevalence of custard in Portuguese cakes. The current archeology museum occupies the site of the 16th century convent of Nossa Senhora da Assunção (Our Lady of the Assumption). It would appear that the nuns used egg whites to starch their habits – leaving a high proportion of egg yolks which needed to be used up. These were used to make the custard for cakes and pastries, many of which are still popular in Portugal today.
There is so much to talk about, the stunning architecture, the history of the pavements, the storks that sit proudly atop many of the buildings, the chapel of the skulls, the history of the theatre. But you really need to do the walk yourself to understand the rich history of this beautiful city.
One thing I did discover is that free walks are much better than those you’ve paid for. Our guide’s tip (essentially his only payment for the two hours) was based on the quality of the walk he provided. As a consequence the quality of the walk and the information provided was outstanding. I definitely recommend this walk for anyone who is visiting Faro and for those who may already have visited. It was interesting and entertaining. There was so much more to Faro than I had anticipated and I will be going back shortly to re-visit some of the buildings and landmarks I heard about throughout the walk.
If you are interested in a free walking tour of Faro, the company we used was Faro Free Walking Tours.