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Algarve History

Updated on March 14, 2011

Many locations throughout the Algarve can be found with clear evidence of early human settlements. The history of this region dates back to thousands of years, whose existence of these people can be found in the Neolithic remains and the Phoenician and Roman archaeological sites that are known and that are still being discovered today. Roman roads and bridges have passed the test of time and are still today being used.

As an ideal land by ancient civilizations, the Algarve was also visited by many other peoples due to the fact of its immense coastline and strategic location. Algarve history includes Viking visits as well, not long ago a Viking ship was discovered buried in the mud in Arade River just close to Portimão.

Locations like Castro Marim, Silves and Lagos to name just a few, were one of the first town settlements due to its natural land formation that benefited those people as preferred defensive points against unexpected invaders from land or sea.

For five centuries of Moors ruling the Algarve, they left their imprint well imbedded in the region, starting with its name: Al-Gharb, meaning “The land to the West”.

The Moorish occupation of the territory which lasted from the 8th to the 13th century is still noted in the names of the towns and villages, in the agriculture, in the architecture, seen in many villages all over the Algarve.

At the time Silves was of central commercial importance of the region, again because of its strategic geographical location. Ships would sail up and down the then navigable Arade River doing their trading business.

There is an old and beautifully romantic tale about a Moorish prince that brought to the Algarve his wife and she was used to see in her home country the ground covered in snow.

The prince to satisfy his beloved ordered all of the Algarve planted with almond trees, so that when they flower and the petals fell, it would leave a snowy white carpet on the ground reminding her of her home land.

In the mid-13th century the Algarve was the last part of Portugal to be conquered from Muslims. After very long periods of battle losses and wins, the Portuguese and the King enjoyed the valuable contribution of the Knights of the Order of St. James.

The result was that, in the reign of Dom Afonso lll, the Arab presence in the Algarve was brought to an end, and the Algarve was joined to the kingdom of Portugal, thus the foundation of the “Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves”.

In the early 15th century, the beginning of the Portuguese maritime discoveries and expansion gave a whole new importance to the Algarve.

It was to the Algarve that ships would come for their final loading of provisions from Lisbon and cast off to find new maritime routes and discover new land.

Since then Lagos and Sagres have remained forever connected to Prince Henry the Navigator and the Portuguese Discoveries.

Until then, Sagres was known as the end of the world, by its grandeur and majestic 70m+ high cliffs. Algarve history is so embedded that wherever you go, whatever region you visit in the Algarve, from east to west you can feel and smell Algarves history all around you.

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