Cidade Velha

sights / Historic

Cidade Velha information

Faro , Portugal
Old Town
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Within medieval walls, the picturesque Cidade Velha consists of winding, peaceful cobbled streets and squares, reconstructed in a melange of styles following successive batterings – first by marauding British and then two big earthquakes.

Enter through the neoclassical Arco da Vila , built by order of Bishop Francisco Gomes, Faro’s answer to the Marquês de Pombal, who oversaw Faro’s reconstruction after the 1755 earthquake. The top of the street opens onto the orange-tree-lined Largo da Sé, with the câmara municipal (town hall) on the left, the Paço Episcopal (Bishop’s Palace) on the right and the ancient sé (cathedral) in front of you.

The sé was completed in 1251, on what was probably the site of a Roman temple, then a Visigoth cathedral and then a Moorish mosque. Only the tower gate and several chapels remain of the original Romanesque-Gothic exterior – the rest was devoured in 1755. It was rebuilt in a polygamy of Gothic, Renaissance and baroque styles, with intense gilded carving alongside elaborate tilework inside. The baroque organ is worth noting. Climb up to the rooftop miradouro (lookout) for views across the pretty walled town to the sea. If you’re lucky, you might see storks nesting in the bell towers. The cathedral buildings also house the Museu Capitular , with an assortment of sacred artwork (vestments, chalices, saint statues in glass boxes), and a small 18th-century shrine built of bones to remind you of your mortality.

Facing the cathedral is the 18th-century Paço Episcopal (no longer open to visitors), with a pointy roof and finished in multicoloured azulejos (hand-painted tiles); it’s the successor to the previous Episcopal dwelling trashed by British troops in 1596. At the southern end of the square is a small 15th-century town gate, the Arco da Porta Nova , leading to the ferry pier.

Next to the cathedral is the stately 16th-century Convento de Nossa Senhora da Assunção , now housing the Museu Municipal, also known by its former name, Museu Arqueológico.

Also nearby is Trem Municipal Gallery of Art . This attractively converted building houses temporary exhibitions by known locals and international artists – painters, photographers, installation artists and sculptors. It’s worth popping in here to see what’s on.

From here you can leave the old town through the medieval Arco de Repouso (Gate of Rest) – apparently Afonso III, after taking Faro from the Moors, put his feet up and heard Mass nearby. Around the gateway are some of the town walls’ oldest sections – Afonso III’s improvements on the Moorish defences.