History of Algarve

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Today - 16th July 2024

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Tomorrow - 17th July 2024

Sunrise 06:25


Sunset 20:50

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Updated at 12:01 GMT

First Settlers:

The first inhabitants to settle in the area of the modern day Algarve probably arrived from North Africa, perhaps as long ago as the 2000 BC. Remains found across the island, especially those at Vila Velha de Alvor, certainly suggest the region was inhabited during the Neolithic period.

By around 1000BC the Phoenicians had settled on the coast and set up trading ports. This was the start of a long period of naval history for the Algarve. During the next few centuries, other tribes arrived in the region such as the Conii and the Celts. The latter are thought to have brought Iron Age discoveries to the region. Around this time saw the birth of the city of Lagos, so named from the word lacobriga, meaning âlake settlementâ.


Romans, Moors and Spaniards:

Following their victory in the Punic Wars, the Romans arrived in the Algarve region in about the middle of the 3rd century BC.  The Romans were an advanced civilisation and roads and villas were built in the region. Roman rule lasted for about 600 years, and evidence of the civilisation can still be seen today. The ruins at Abicada are a particularly good example.

Roman rule ended in the Algarve region with the arrival of the Visigoths in about 410AD. The Visigoths thrived on the decline of the Roman Empire and at their height came to control the Algarve region together with most of Spain and much of southern France.

It was the turn of the Moors next to hold sway over the Algarve. The Moors were an Arab tribe from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa, who arrived in about 700AD and remained for over 500 years. Moorish influence can still be seen today, especially in the architecture such as the mosques and distinctive chimneys in the area. In fact this is when the name âAlgarveâ first came into being. The word is derived from the Arabic âAl-Gharbâ literally meaning âland of the westâ.

Between 900AD and 1249AD there were numerous battles over the region between the Moors and the Christians. Both sides suffered their share of defeats and victories and it wasnât until 1236 that King Sancho II arrived, with his army bolstered by the Crusaders, and took over the Algarve. When his successor Alfonso III was crowned in 1249, it was as King of âPortugal and all Algarveâ. The city of Faro, however, remained a solitary stronghold for the Moors for another 20 years.

Disputes over Algarve continued as the Crown of Castile in neighbouring Spain disputed the borders with Portugal. The Treaty of Alcanices at the end of the 14th century saw the dispute resolved and the borders set, and in the next 300 years there was little trouble in the region except from the threat of pirate raids along the coast.

Age of Discoveries:

These threats from pirates, as well as the desire for gold, were the main incentive behind the regionâs huge interest in naval expeditions. The start of the 15th century heralded the âAge of Great Discoveryâ where Portugal, led by prince âHenry the Navigatorâ discovered many new lands. Portugal set up many new colonies including Madeira and the Azores and became a major naval power.

Although born in Porto, Henry the Navigator later settled in the Algarve town of Sagres. It was from here that he prepared for and gathered men for his expeditions. He also set up a school of navigators and map-makers in Sagres. In 1419 he was appointed governor of the province of the Algarve. Henry and his fellow explorers made great discoveries down the coast of Africa, going further than any Europeans before them. This was truly a golden age for the Algarve, bringing wealth and fame to the region.

More disputes with Spain and an Earthquake:

In 1578 King Sebastiao of Portugal and the Algarve was killed in Morocco. The throne was left vacant, and King Phillip II of Spain crowned himself as King Felipe I of Portugal in 1580. The years after saw attacks from the British, including the Earl of Essex and Sir Francis Drake.

In 1640, after 60 years of rule by the Spanish, the Portuguese had had enough and a successful uprising saw Joao IV placed on the throne. Almost 30 years later, the Spanish recognised Portugalâs independence.

1755 was the year of a major event of a different kind in the Algarveâs history. On November 1st one of the deadliest and most destructive earthquakes in history struck. Though the main force occurred in Lisbon, widespread damage occurred across the Algarve. The total death toll was between 60,000 and 100,000 and political and economic tensions ensued.

Napoleon and Civil War:

The start of the 18th century saw further trouble for the Algarve as Portugal was invaded by France under Napoleon. During the Peninsula War (1808-1811) he was forced to withdraw as British troops came to Portugalâs aide.

Between 1828 and 1834 there was a Civil War in Portugal as the two royal brothers fought against each other; the liberal Pedro versus the hard-line Miguel. More internal conflicts around the turn of the century culminated in the assassination of King Carlos I, meaning it was a troubled time for the region. Soon the monarchy was finished, and when King Manuel II abdicated in 1910 the Republic was proclaimed.

The tourist boom:

The 20th century was eventful in terms of Portuguese politics but the most influential event for the Algarve was the tourist explosion of the 1960s. The tourist explosion brought huge income to the region and development grew enormously with new roads and airports linking the rapidly growing coastal resorts.

As with all major tourist destinations over the world questions arise as to what price is being paid for the rapid development. High rise hotels spring up and formerly peaceful coastlines and transformed. At the same the industry brings a great deal of jobs and income to the area. Whatever the answers, tourism really certainly shapes modern day Algarve as millions come each year to enjoy the great climate and beaches on offer.