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The Guadiana River-Algarve

Updated on May 13, 2010

The Guadiana River is over 800km long from where it sprouts till where it meets the Atlantic between the Algarve city of Vila Real de Santo Antonio and on the Spanish side the city of Ayamonte.

In Algarve, the Guadiana River has always had an important role in the development of the region. The Guadiana River acts as a boundary between the Algarve province in Portugal and the province of Huelva in Spain.

The Guadiana River is born on the Spanish province of Albacete. It´s basin area between the two countries totals over 70,000 km2, over 20,000 km2 on the Portuguese side now with the new Alqueva Dam.

It´s last 48km stretch is where it is possible to navigate between the village of Pomarão and the city of Vila Real de Santo Antonio.

The Rivers width on this stretch varies between 100m to 500m and on some places it could be as 20m deep. This navigable area permits ships with a maximum 3m sea-gauge on low tide.

On the first half of the 8th century, Phoenician navigators started to settle on these coasts and practicing their trades. Two centuries later and attracted by the mineral wealth of the region the Greeks established contact with the local communities.

The Guadiana River has been a natural highway for the past 2000 years. Its Natural access has attracted Carthaginians, Romans and Arabs through time. Commercial and cultural trading was at its highest on this route and became an important Atlantic-Mediterranean stopover. Gold, silver, copper, leather, wheat, honey, olive oil, salt, fish and meat were just a few of the goods that were traded.

After conquering of the Algarve by the Christians on the 13th century the Guadiana River became the border between the Kingdoms of Portugal and Spain. Religious-military orders repopulated and settled the locations of Castro Marim, Alcoutim and Mértola and guaranteed their defense against invaders.

In the late 19th to mid 20th century the Guadiana River was again an important route for transporting the mined pyrites from the mines of St. Domingo’s.

Steam ships laden with this pyrite mixture of minerals would slowly maneuver their way down river until Vila Real de Santo Antonio and transfer their cargo into bigger seagoing vessels. Much of this mineral went to the UK for the war effort.

Nowadays the Guadiana River is seeing a return in popularity and use on both sides due to the ever increasing tourism market. Sailing northwards on this river, you will notice many housing developments, golf courses with spectacular views to the river. Luxury Hotels marking their statement on the river and the growing all-round water sports activities.

The importance of this route through the ages can be appreciated by visiting the various archeological stations throughout the river that have been preserved and restored, pointing the main activities and trades of that particular era.


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    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 

      8 years ago from Portugal

      I love the Guadiana river and I´ve ride my bike along it´s margins several times already... beautiful scenery.

    • nelson soares profile imageAUTHOR

      nelson soares 

      8 years ago from Sunny Algarve

      Thank you 2patricias. I have on occasions gone up river on friends of mine motor or sail boat and it´s a very enjoyable and calming trip, but not on that particular little ferry. I did some wake boarding last year just underneath the bridge. Years ago before the bridge existed you had to take a ferry from Vila Real de Sto. Antonio to get over to Ayamonte, Spain. You could take your car if you wanted to, and that was always a nice journey as well.

    • 2patricias profile image


      8 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      This is a very good description of a river that Pat knows well. Have you taken the little ferry that goes from Villa Real? Nice trip.

      Thanks for an interesting hub.


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