Faro - from its origins into the present
The first archaeological evidences date back from the 4th century B.C, when the Phoenicians settled in the Western Mediterranean. The city was then called Ossónoba, being one of the most important urban centres in Southern Portugal and a trade centre for farming produce, fish and much more. From the 2nd century B.C. until the 8th A.D the city was under Roman and Visigoth dominance being afterwards conquered by the Muslims in 713.
The name Ossónoba prevailed during the Arabic occupation. However, in the 9th century it changed into Santa Maria do Ocidente. Capital of an ephemeral principality, it was fortified with new walls. In the 11th century the city became known as Santa Maria Ibn Harun.
After the Independence of Portugal in 1143, D. Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese king and his successors began expanding towards south and conquered the territories occupied by the Muslims. Following the conquest by D. Afonso III in 1249, the Portuguese called the city Santa Maria de Faaron or Santa Maria de Faaram.
In the following centuries, Faro became a prosperous urban centre due to its geographical location, secure harbor, the use and commerce of salt, inland farming produces and diverse produce from the colonies. In the 14th century the Jewish community became very important in the city.
One of its most prominent figures was the typographer Samuel Gacon, responsible for printing the Pentateuch in Hebrew, the first book printed in Portugal in 1487. Faro’s Jewish community of was one of the most notorious in the country having many artisans and tradesman's. This prosperity was interrupted when king D. Manuel I issued an Edict, in December 1496, expelling from the country whoever refused to convert to Catholicism. Thus, there were officially no Jews in Portugal.
In the Old Town, the Convent of Our Lady of the Assumption, funded by queen D. Leonor, wife of king D. Manuel I, was built in that same Jewish quarter location. In 1499, king D. Manuel I was responsible for a deep urban transformation. Many structures were built in the city – the hospital, the Church of the Holy Spirit (Church of Mercy), the Customs House and the Abattoir – outside the Alcaçaria, next to the riverside.
In 1540, king D. João III raised Faro to city status and in 1577 the Episcopal See in the Algarve was transferred from Silves to Faro. The 1596’s pillage carried out by the English troops, led by the Earl of Essex, caused significant damages in the town’s walls, churches and other buildings. The city experienced a huge evolution in the 17th and 18th centuries. The new enclosure was built during the Restoration War (1640/1668) forming a big semicircle in front of the Ria Formosa.
On the 1st November 1755, the whole country was shaken by a massive earthquake and the Algarve was deeply affected by it. Faro’s religious buildings were destroyed. The walls, the castle and its towers, bastions, headquarters, warehouses, the Customs House, the County Jail, the Convents of Saint Francis and Saint Claire were ruined. The city was confined within that enclosure until the late 19th century. Over the last decades the city has outgrown that enclosure enormously.