A RECENT archaeological dig, carried out in a protected area within Faro’s historic centre, has uncovered more remains dating back to the Iron Age and items from Islamic and Roman civilisations. Good news for archaeologists and history enthusiasts, but perhaps not for Faro Câmara, which has been hoping to have a luxury hotel built on the site. The recent exploration took place in earth beneath the Magistério Primário, an old school establishment that lies between the Sé, an Arab mosque and a Roman court – an area protected by the Instituto Português do Património Arquitectónico (IPPAR), the Portuguese institute for patrimonial architecture. Mónica Saraiva, a student from Algarve University in Faro who took part in the excavation in February, has told Lusa news agency that Islamic and Roman remains were found: “We saw coins, ceramic plates, tiles, small fragments from pots, needles and nails.” Tânia Mota, an Algarve University student who took part in another recent excavation, told the news agency that a Roman cup and a button made of bone were also found at the site.
As a protected area, proposing a hotel to be built there could, for many people, seem just a little surprising, although it has to be said that Faro does lack decent hotels. In comments made to the press last year, José Vitorino, President of Faro Câmara, said: “It is unbelievable that the city of Faro does not have even one five-star hotel. We want to transform Faro into an important borough for tourism in the Algarve and in Portugal.”
For Vitorino, “Faro is the gateway to millions of tourists and, if the city has a poor image, this can affect the whole of the region,” he said, trying to justify the proposed hotel for the historic centre.
Prominent experts in the archaeological field, however, do not share Vitorino’s preferred choice of location for the new luxury hotel. “The entire walled area contains remains dating back to the Iron Age through to present day,” says Teresa Júdice Gamito, a professor at the Algarve University, who spent a three-year period studying the area, a major project that was concluded five years ago.
“From the dig I oversaw at Horta da Misericódia, the structures were mainly from Roman times, the Islamic period and from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The remains reveal the everyday life of the population. Lots of materials were collected, mainly ceramics, bone objects, coins, and bronzes and iron objects. Everything has been treated at the Archaeological Laboratory of the University of Algarve,” she said.
For Gamito, the idea of building a hotel on the site is “incomprehensible”. This proposal is “just horrible,” she says. “Faro has suffered many earthquakes, which have meant that the city has been built and re-built over and over again, and, therefore, there are remains from many different civilisations in this area.”
Not enough space
for a five-star hotel
The professor was clearly angered by the câmara’s proposal and commented: “There is not even enough space there to build a decent five-star hotel with good facilities on the site. I don’t understand why they won’t leave this area alone and find a location outside, where they can build freely with a lot more space. This way, they could have a really good hotel with pools, bars and conference space.” The professor also warned: “I think the current project is very negative for Faro and its inhabitants.”
Finally, when asked if she thought the hotel was likely to go ahead, she told The Resident: “I cannot guarantee, but I am almost sure that IPPAR will dismiss this proposal.”
Results from archaeological study awaited
Meanwhile, Faro Câmara is reported as commenting: “With regard to the luxury hotel, everything is in place and a favourable report has already been received from the Direcção-Geral do Turismo.”
According to Vasco Santa Clara, a senior figure at Faro Câmara, only the official results of the recent excavation are now being awaited. “If there are no obstacles, we will immediately launch the public tender for the project.”
In January of this year, the President of Faro Câmara told a regional newspaper that the câmara would put together a project for a luxury hotel in the old city, after requesting the opinion of IPPAR, which may or may not authorise the construction to take place.
To date, no judgement has been given, guarantees Pedro Barros, the head of the Instituto Português de Arqueologia (IPA) in the Algarve, emphasising that the council was only authorised “to carry out archaeological work to assess the area”.
By Caroline Cunha