VISIT TO FARO AND OLHÂO Thursday 18th June 2015

Some notes and pictures from a day out in Faro and Olhão. It’s been very hot and dry here, which has brought hay fever back. I thought a trip to the coast and the ocean breezes might help things.

I hadn’t planned to visit the museum in Faro, but when I walked past I saw that they currently have an exhibit on the 125 year history of railways in the Algarve.

Admission is only 2 Euros and there are a number of other permanent and temporary exhibits. If you have a couple of hours to spare, or simply want to spend a couple of hours out of the summer heat, it’s worth the cost. However, it is NOT accessible to those in wheelchairs. Many of the exhibits are on the upper floor of the old convent in which it sits.

The museum is in the old city, behind the walls, near the cathedral. Opening times : Tuesday to Friday 1000 – 1800, Saturday and Sunday 1030 – 1700. Closed Mondays. Open until 1900hrs 1st June to 30th September, but does not open at weekends in summer until 1130.

It’s located in a former convent, construction of which began in 1519. Occupied by nuns for the next 300 years or so, it was vacated when the religious orders were dissolved in 1836 and later was sold to become a cork processing factory. It was acquired by the state and declared a national monument in 1948. This small picture shows the interior ornamental garden – click any picture that follows to see it full size.

The museum houses a large number of religious paintings. Some are not in very good condition. This is one of the rooms.

There are also a number of Roman gravestones and other stoneworks, also a mosaic floor that was found near the Faro railway station that was transported bodily to the museum and re-assembled. It was the floor of a public building, function unknown, sponsored by four local worthies of the time whose names are recorded in the tiles.

Faro, in Roman times, was the city of Ossonoba, a major trading post on the coast. It had though been occupied by various peoples before that. One exhibit is a part of a stone with writing that no-one has ever been able to decipher. It’s thought that the script dates from Phoenician times, perhaps as long ago as the 3rd Century BC. The knowledge of the writing was lost when the Romans conquered.

When the Roman occupation ended in the 5th century, their place was taken by Moors (Muslims) from North Africa. They ruled the south of Portugal until 1249, when the armies of King Afonso III took the city. This is commemorated by this plaque
at the Arco do Repouso, which was once the main gate into the city. This dates from the 12th century.

It’s interesting to note that this ancient structure, and the convent, are two of the few buildings that were not flattened by the earthquake and tsunami in 1755.

But the main purpose of my visit was to see the exhibits related to the railway. Last year marked the 125th anniversary of the opening of the railway into Faro and the Algarve. The restored presidential train visited, with the local great and good able to partake of a ride – not the rabble though! We were allowed to take a look inside. Here are the pictures I took last year. The train is used for luxury tours around the country for those who have a few thousand Euros to spare.

The exhibition runs until the end of August. It’s small, but for railway buffs very interesting.

Some history.

The Algarve was pretty well cut off from the rest of Portugal until the coming of the railway. One of the panels contains the words of a local railwayman from the early days. He said that the Algarve could be thought of as an island, surrounded to the south and west by water and to the north and west by almost impenetrable hills. (Not to mention a wide river, the Guadiana.) The way by sea was often dangerous.

Construction of the railway was authorised in 1875 in consequence of a serious drought in the Algarve. I paraphrase slightly from the Portuguese. The document states that ‘the drought was gravely affecting the agriculture of the Algarve and the well-being of its people. The railway would alleviate this by ending the isolation of the area and also creating work for those who most need it’.

Construction took 14 years. The first line struck out from Beja to Funcheira, completed in 1888, then follows the route we know today through Santa Clara, Messines, Tunes then across the Algarve to Faro. One panel quotes that there are almost no straight stretches, it is curve after curve. (Some of these kinks were ironed out when the line was electrified and modernised in 2003, but many remain.)

The present day route to Lisbon (Barreiro), via Grândola, was not opened until 1919.

The first train from Barreiro (across the river from Lisbon) arrived in Faro on 21st February 1889. The official inauguration ceremony did not though take place until 1st July. This picture shows the ceremonial train arriving, click to see full size.

The line was extended beyond Faro to Tavira by 1904 and Vila Real de Santo António, opening in 1906. A problem was getting from the Faro station around the old city and beyond to the east.

A sea wall had to be built, which in the process created a lagoon, which today is Faro’s marina.

All the stations are built to the same basic design, but each has its own distinctive pattern of wall tiles.

The station at Vila Real de Santo António is a different design and dates from 1945, the original ‘temporary’ wooden structure having lasted since the line opened. This picture was taken in 2011, when the old USA Budd design railcars were still running.

To the east of the region, the railway opened as far as Portimão in 1903, but the extension to Lagos did not open until July 1922.

The railway today

Line diagram Diagram of Algarve railway lines 2015

The line was electrified from Lisbon to Faro in 2003. The bridge over the River Tagus had a rail deck added, allowing trains from Lisbon to go through to the Algarve instead of having to start from Barreiro, a short ferry ride away. Since then, the whole Algarve line has been modernised at a cost of 35 million Euros. This included the installation of signals, the replacement of old jointed rails by welded rails, provision of higher platforms at most stations thus making access for those less able rather easier.

Earlier this year it was announced that the Tunes – Lagos and Faro – Vila Real de Santo António sections are to be electrified with work supposed to begin in 2017 for completion in 2020. New trains would have been needed in any event. None of those currently in use comply with the EU rules on accessibility for those less able which come into force in 2020. Never mind that in many cases it impossible to actually get to the stations unless you walk or drive! And buses do not comply either!!!

There is also a crack-brained scheme to build a branch line to serve the airport, opening in 2022. A bigger waste of money is hard to imagine. 90% of people arriving at the airport either hire cars or go off in buses with their holiday company. Although the train I took from Albufeira to Faro last Thursday morning was pretty full of people obviously heading for the airport, present airport needs are met by a bus to and from Faro that runs twice an hour at best or the local taxis and transfer companies.

It’s a pity that the train timetable is mainly geared around making connections with the trains to and from Lisbon. Local travel can be far from easy. At weekends there are long gaps between trains either side of Faro, meaning that in particular if you want to travel from east to Faro to say Portimao or Lagos, there are no useable connections for a period of SEVEN hours. Also, there are some gaps of three hours between trains, on any day. Current timetable etc here.

This is poor, considering that when the line fully opened a railwayman recalls in the exhibition that it was suddenly possible to travel from Vila Real to Lagos in 3hrs 15 minutes, whereas before it would have taken all day and probably longer – by horse don’t forget. There were no cars then. A journey to Lisbon would have been
almost unthinkable, a major undertaking given that there were almost no roads.

In the present day, the quickest journey from one end of the line to the other takes 2hrs 51 minutes for a distance of km. There are no ‘directo’ trains these days, which in 1978 did the end to end trip in 2hrs 20 minutes!

Old timetables

One interesting display is of broadsheet station timetables from the 1970’s and 1980’s, before modernisation.

There was a direct train between Lagos and Lisbon via Tunes, another table shows the short-lived car carrying trains that ran between Porto and Faro in summer. As soon as the motorways opened, they were no longer needed. The ramps at Faro where cars were driven off the trains are still there.

Another timetable lists the large number of tiny halts and stopping places in the Algarve that have now almost disappeared. Some, like Vale Judeu and Patã, lasted until the past few years and can still be seen, but little or no trace remains of Odiaxere, Penina (later Alvor) and between Albufeira and the other side of Faro where are (or were) Benfarras, Vale Eguas, Vale Formosa, Patacao, Marchil, Portas do Mar and Sao Francisco? To name but a few.

At the bottom of the Algarve line timetable is a warning to the effect that all trains on the line have ‘limited accommodation’ and that the railway will make no recompense if a seat cannot be found! No worries about that these days.

I managed to photo some of them, but these may not show up too well on line. I have some of them full sized if anyone is interested.

Complete photo Album

The whole photo album is here. I have noticed that if the ‘play slide show’ option is selected some of the captions do not display before the picture changes. I recommend you view each picture manually as it were.


A day out in Faro and Olhão

Tagged: , , on June 21, 2015 by cubsur51


4 Responses to “A day out in Faro and Olhão”

  1. Great blog, thank you. Fascinated by the old timetables and list of stopping places, but unfortunately can’t read it very well! Particularly interested in those between Faro and Tavira. Marim Station building is still there, as is the next one towards Fuzeta. Is there a printed list anywhere?

    • I have never seen one, but I do have a railway map of Portugal I bought some years back that marks all the old stations. These are from west to east :
      (Lagos, the old station buildingwas still standing six months ago but has been sold. The new station is next door.)
      Odiáexere (not trace as I recall)
      Figueira (station building still there)
      Alvor / Penina – a ruined small building only;
      Alvalede (between Algoz and Tunes) no trace I have ever noticed;
      Patã -platform and shelter still there. Closed fairly recently;
      Belfarras – nothing there I think;
      Vale Judeu – platform and shelter still there, again closed only recently;
      Vale de Éguas also Vale Formoso – cannot recall seeing anything;
      Almancil-Nexe the old station gone (the present Almancil station is of recent construction);
      São João da Venda – station building is still there;
      Patacão – gone;
      Marchil – gone;
      Now we are at Faro station.
      Portas do Mar / São Franciso (just east of Faro) both gone, these two were barely 400 metres apart between the present stations of Faro and Bom João;
      Rio Seco – gone;
      Marim and Bias you mentioned;
      (Now at Tavira)
      Santa Rita (east of Conceição) station building is still there;
      Nora – gone as I recall;
      Aroeira – gone;
      Vila Real de Santo António Guadiana (by the river and ferry) station the building and platforms are still there.

      Hope that helps.

  2. That’s really helpful and interesting, thank you. I’ve actually just found the Portuguese Wikipedia entry on the Algarve Railway, which has a lot of detail. There do also appear to be a few “halts” as well as stations, but I should think they went out of use earlier. In the days before widespread car use they must have been invaluable, but would have made the journey very slow!

    • Yes some of the ‘halts’ eg Patã, Vale Judeu and Aroeira were closed a few years ago, without any warning. I remember being on trains that stopped there 7 or 8 years ago. Most of the rest went long ago.

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