When you visit Algarve — the 360º Algarve — you will discover some of the charms and secrets of Portuguese history that time couldn’t erase. It is also a chance to time travel while finding many traces of the different cultures that have come together throughout the history of this region.
From the evidence of the Roman presence to the heritage of the long legacy of the Muslim era, from the Christian reconquest to the epic period of the Portuguese discoveries, you will connect with a distinctive historical past.
Human presence in southern Portugal dates back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The presence of megalithic stones in the area of Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Alcoutim and elsewhere in the region attests to those facts.
As the home to a wide range of ancient civilizations, the Algarve was also visited by various other cultures, some of them inevitably brought to the region by the immense sea that bathes its shores.
Around the year 1000 BC, the Phoenicians founded the city of Cádiz, and many coastal ports were developed along the Algarve coast. Carthaginians, Conii, and other Indo-European, Celtic or pre-Celtic tribes were also settled in the region.
By 200 BC the Algarve came under Roman control after Fabius Maximus Servilianus defeated the Lusitanians and the Turduli in the context of the Lusitanian War — as was the case of much of the Iberian Peninsula, which was absorbed into the Roman Republic.
Many Roman ruins, both in the form of temples, villas, public baths, bridges, salting and fish-processing facilities, and mosaics are widespread all over the region, notably in Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Portimão, Quarteira, Faro, Olhão, Tavira — illustrating the strong contributions that Roman culture made to the Algarve.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths occupied the Iberian Peninsula around the year 500. With the death of King Amalaric in 531, the original dynastic shape of the Visigoths came to an end.
When the Moors conquered Lagos in 716, it was renamed Zawaia. Faro, which the Christian residents had called Santa Maria, was renamed Faraon. It means “settlement of the knights”. More than five centuries of Moorish influences left their indelible imprint upon the region, beginning with its actual name: Al-Gharb, which means “The West”. But also in the agriculture, architecture, the lacework patterns of the balconies, roof terraces, and chimneys, or the whitewashed houses, that you can find in many Algarve villages.
At that time, Silves was considered the main city in the region because of its strategic geographical location.
In the mid-13th century, the Algarve was the last part of Portugal to be reconquered by the Christians, after a long period of fighting for the territory. King Afonso III of Portugal started calling himself “King of Portugal and the Algarve”. The most outstanding fact of his reign was indeed the definitive conquest of this region.
Later, in the early 15th century, the beginning of the Portuguese maritime expansion brought a new lease of life to the Algarve and its people. Since then, Lagos and Sagres have remained forever linked to Prince Henry, the Navigator, and the Portuguese Discoveries.
Even today, at the headland known as the Ponta de Sagres, a giant stone finger can be seen pointing towards the Atlantic Ocean in a clear allusion to the courage of the Algarve navigators, such as Gil Eanes, who set sail across the seas in the quest of a “new world”.
Many marks of this remote past, which is still very much present in the soul of the Algarve’s inhabitants, are to be found scattered all around the region.
After the destructive effects of an earlier major earthquake in 1722, the 1755 earthquake damaged many areas in the Algarve and an accompanying tsunami destroyed or damaged coastal fortresses, while coastal towns and villages were heavily damaged — except Faro, which was protected by the sandy banks of Ria Formosa lagoon. In Lagos, the waves reached the top of the city walls.
1853 is the date attributed to the oldest canning factory in Portugal — still operating— Ramirez & Cª, Ltd., founded in Vila Real de Santo António. The company introduced, for the first time in Portugal, in 1865, a method of preserving food in “hermetically sealed containers” through heat. The process was developed by Nicolas Appert.
In 1910, canned fish represented 4.7% of Portuguese exportation.
The 1st World War (1914-1918) is one of the most important events of this period, for the canning industry. Due to the supply needs of the troops and some populations during the conflict, the number of factories in the country multiplied, as did the number of exports, which led to the growth of industrial areas and urban centers themselves.
By the 1950s, as air traveling became more accessible, the Mediterranean Basin increasingly developed into a hot spot for international tourism. Regions such as the Algarve benefited economically from this trend. This somewhat chaotic tourism boom made the tourist industry the biggest contributor to the economy of Algarve and the largest employer in the region.