Due to the importance of its position on the world map this province has been invaded and fought over by the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors. Closely associated with the sea throughout its history this was the base of the famous Henry the Navigator who, from the point at Sagres organized the successful 15th Century exploration of the New World.
The Algarve has been inhabited for thousands of years but the first developed society was probably the Phoenicians in 1.100 BC and then followed by the Tartessus tribe to about 600 BC. In the same century there is also evidence of a tribe by the name of "Conii" being found around the area of Vila Real de Santo António followed by another tribe named "Turduli" in the same area in 400 BC. In between these two tribes the whole area had been inhabited by a wave of Celts. Another tribe from this same period was the "Cynetes".
Somewhere around 235 BC the Romans moved up from their base in Cadiz to occupy the Algarve and were eventually removed by the invading Visigoths in about 410 AD. here they were to stay until 711 when the Umayyads from North Africa took possession of the southern Iberian Peninsular. The Moors were to stay in possession of the Algarve until 1185 when Sancho I and his Christian army briefly captured most towns with Silves holding out to 1189. However, by 1191 the Moors had these same towns back in their possession.
Finally, King Sancho II and his Christian army helped by Crusaders retook the Algarve in 1236. The first time that the Algarve was referred to as a part of the Kingdom was when Afonso III was crowned in 1249 he took the title of "King of Portugal and all Algarve". However, it was not until 1272 that Afonso III eventually took Faro which was the last stronghold of the Moors in the Algarve.
The King of Castile did not at first accept Afonso III's claim to the Algarve and it was only in 1267 at the Treaty of Badajoz that this situation was temporarily resolved. The situation was again settled in 1297 at the Treaty of Alcañices when the actual boundaries between the two countries was agreed. The Algarve inhabitants remained for nearly 300 hundred years without any further change in their rulers but subject to raids from pirates. This situation changed when the throne of Portugal fell vacant in 1580 and the nearest relative in line was King Felipe II of Spain who soon crowned himself as King of Portugal.
Shortly after this the Algarve fell prone to attacks from passing English vessels. In 1596 the Earl of Essex invaded Faro and removed amongst other things the historic library belonging to the Bishop of Faro. Francis Drake who was harrying the ships that were preparing for the Armada failed in his attack on Lagos in 1597. He moved westward and landed in Sagres to destroy what he could find which included the supposed house in which Henry the Navigator had been living although he is recorded at that time as residing in Lagos.
In 1640 the Portuguese decided to rid themselves of their disliked absent ruler and successfully reclaimed their Kingdom and placed João IV on their throne. (the House of "Duque de Bragança").
The Algarve nearly became a separate Kingdom when the ambitious prime minister of Carlos IV of Spain, Manuel Godoy, was involved in the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1807. In the agreement created by the Emperor Napoleon and agreed by Carlos IV of Spain was that Portugal would be carved into areas to be governed by France and Spain - Manuel Godoy to assume the Algarve. However, the Wars that followed between Portugal that were supported by England and Spain resulted in the plans of Napoleon turning into a complete failure.
The Algarve was also to play a part in the problems once more caused by the claims to the throne of Portugal in 1822. Two royal brothers, Pedro and Miguel, warred against each other with liberal minded Pedro winning against the hardliner Miguel. The Algarve towns, as in most of the country, were at the time divided in their support. From the village of Estombar appeared a rebel Miguel supporter named "Remexido" with a strong band of followers. His support for Miguel was brutally applied to his enemies and extending especially to robbery. In 1833 Pedro had to send some 2.500 men to the Algarve to successfully capture this elusive and troublesome bandit.
The Algarve is composed of 5.411 square kilometres with approximately 420,000 (Year 2004) permanent inhabitants. This figure can swell to well over a million people in the height of the summer. The Algarve administrative centre is Faro with its control over 16 Municipalities, which in turn govern a total of 77 Parishes.
The length of the south-facing coastline is approx. 155 kilometres and stretches about 52 kilometres to the north on the west. At the widest point to the north, it is approximately 36 kilometres deep. Communication is mainly by road but there is single-track railway line running from Lagos to Vila Real do Santo António that also links to the line running to Lisbon and further north. The old "EN125" main road runs along the whole coast and has now been greatly replaced by the new almost parallel motorway "A22" (also known as the Via do Infante). Starting at the border of Spain and stretching west to Lagos. Close to Albufeira it joins with the main motorway to Lisbon. This motorway will take the visitor from the Spanish boarder at Vila Real de Santo António in the east to the historic town of Lagos in the west in a little over one hour of driving, thus now making the whole Algarve very easily accessible. There is one international airport located close to Faro and this conveniently lies in the middle of the Algarve coastline.
There are about 100 sandy attractive beaches washed by the Atlantic Ocean and due to the maritime shelf and water currents the sea temperature can be often be surprisingly warm even in some of the winter months. Located on the tip of Europe with the vast ocean of the Atlantic as its southern and western border, this enviable position gives this region possibly the most unpolluted climate in the European continent.
The interior from the coast greatly varies in its picturesque appeal due to its variety of fauna, soil and contours. In January and February the coast is painted white with almond blossom shading the many varieties of wild orchids. In March, the heady perfume of orange blossom mixes with the bloom of acacias. During the month of April the bountiful wild flowers give cause to the delightful music of the many colourful birds. May and June is the time to see the raw beauty of the striking bare barks of stripped cork trees in contrast to the palette purple of the jacaranda. July is the time of cherries, strawberries and melons. August and September provide the picking of grapes, figs and almonds. November is for the gathering of chestnuts for the national festival of São Martinho. Whilst, in December it is time to start picking the famous sweet juicy Algarve oranges which continue through to March.
Away from the immediate coastal plain are the foothills leading up to the highest point Foia (902 mts.) above the un-spoilt village of Monchique. This mountain area is well known for the layers of Roman terraces with granite stone walls that provide the stream of local vegetables that can be found on sale in the local market. Also, from this region comes the local brewed drink "Medronho" that is best drunk in one of the many local taverns.
The Algarve has few remaining ancient structures as it has suffered several earthquakes since the first recorded one in 63 BC. Particularly ruinous were the ones in 383 AD, 1719, 1755 and 1761.
(The authorities have recently inaugurated a Walking Tour Route of the Algarve which is 301 kilometres in length. Details can be obtained by visiting www.viaalgarvian.org and clicking on English Version in top right hand corner.)