Several centuries before Christ, the Phoenicians from city-states on the coast of what is now Syria and Lebanon set up trading posts in the Algarve as they had done all along the Mediterranean. They were particularly interested in mining inland deposits of Iberian tin, copper and silver. The Carthaginians took over from the Phoenicians and under the great generals Hamilcar and Hannibal established an empire of which the Algarve formed the extreme west.
After the Romans defeated the Carthaginians in the Second Punic War (218-202BC), they absorbed southern Portugal into their empire. The Romans firmly implanted their language, laws and culture and remained the dominant power throughout Portugal for 500 years. The main Roman town in the Algarve was Ossanoba, probably on the site of present-day Faro.
The Romans also introduced a new religion: Christianity. It replaced paganism in the Algarve in the second or third century AD. In the fifth century, Germanic tribes swept through the Roman empire. The Suevi and the Vandals fought one another to gain power in northern and central Portugal, but a larger tribe, the Visigoths, eventually superseded them and penetrated to the far south. The influence of the Visigoths in the Algarve was not great or lasting and when serious divisions broke out between them, they were a push-over for a new wave of invaders from North Africa.
The new occupiers, who arrived in the eighth century, were a mixture of Arabs and Berbers known as the Moors. Their religion was Islam and they brought with them an entirely different culture. Within a decade of their arrival in the year 712, the Moors had conquered almost all of Portugal as well as Spain. They settled throughout most of the Iberian peninsula, but preferred the south where they dominated the economic and cultural life for well over five centuries.
All the while they remained tolerant of their non-Muslim subjects, Jews as well as Christians, allowing freedom of worship, observance of local civil laws and certain land rights. But the fire of Christianity and nationalism was unextinguishable. The Portuguese Christian re-conquest proceeded slowly but relentlessly southward. Moorish resistance in Portugal persisted longest in the Algarve but was finally overcome in 1253. The king who completed the job was Afonso III. Significantly, he was crowned "King of Portugal and the Algarve". Ever since, the southernmost province has been an integral part of Portugal though somehow different from the rest of the country.


Prior to the liberation of the Algarve, independence for the rest of Portugal had been secured when she separated from the Spanish kingdom of León. That was in 1128. Wars with the kingdom of Castile long continued in the south, however, and these gave rise in 1373 to an alliance with England, which was strengthened in 1386 by the most enduring of all alliances, the Treaty of Windsor. This treaty, which is still in existance today, was cemented by help from English troops in the vital Battle of Aljubarrota between Portugal and Castile, and solidified by King João I's marriage to John of Gaunt's daughter, Philippa of Lancaster.
João I founded Portugal's most illustrious dynasty, the House of Aviz. It presided over the Age of Discovery, an epoch of achievement unsurpassed in Portuguese history. It produced such legendary names as Henry the Navigator, Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama. The greatest achievements during this period were rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1488, the pushing through of the sea route to India a decade later, and proclaiming Brazil for the Portuguese crown in 1500.
The Age of Discovery was immediately followed by a "golden age" when Portugal, by then a super-power, was able to cash in on her supremacy at sea, her monopoly on the spice trade, and her control of Europe's first great overseas empire, which stretched from Brazil to China, from the Azores and Madeira to India and the Malay peninsula.
Portugal's days of glory and great wealth did not last for long. By about 1550, the economy was already in steep decline. The high cost of maintaining grants and privileges at home, and administrating colonies and running trading posts abroad, could not be met because of falling prices for oriental wares and the loss of lucrative monopolies to the French, the English and the Dutch.
The Inquisition had brought an end to the years of exploration, expansiveness and exuberance. The throne was occupied by the "boy king," Sebastião. From the shores of the Algarve in 1578, his army set off in a fleet of 500 ships on a latter-day crusade to Morocco. King and army were soon annihilated by the Moroccans. Shortly afterwards, the death of Sebastião's celibate uncle, a cardinal, brought to an end the House of Aviz. The Portuguese then suffered the humiliation of falling under Spanish rule. It was 60 years before Portugal regained her independence.
The Braganza dynasty assumed power as Portugal recovered her kingdom and some of her empire, most notably Brazil. Gold and diamonds from Brazil gave Portugal unprecedented pomp and splendour in the first half of the 18th century. Behind this veil of prosperity, however, lay a nation in decay. Then came two devastating events: The Great Earthquake (1755) and three successive invasions by Napoleon's armies. Portugal was allied with Britain against Napoleon. The so-called Peninsular War ended when Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington, led the expulsion of the French from Portugal in 1811 and from Spain three years later.
The French Revolutionary had given Portuguese dissidents ideas of their own. A democratic movement took root and led to a successful revolution in Oporto in 1820, which spread to other parts of the country. As a consequence, the nation's ancient political structure was shattered and Brazil declared its independence. That, though, was far from the end of the matter. For the best part of a century there was on-going dischord and periodic upheavals between the Liberals, with their English-style democratic constitution, and the Conservatives (or Absolutists), who supported royal authority and the establishment.

The Republic

In 1910, a republican movement overthrew Manuel II, whose father and eldest brother had two years earlier been assassinated. The leaders of the movement were academics, professional men and military officers who hoped to stabilise the nation's chaotic economy by suppressing both the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, the chaos continued because of internal turmoil and worsened because of the outbreak of World War I.
At the outset, Portugal remained neutral in World War I, but Germany declared war in 1916 when German shipping in Portuguese ports was confiscated. The years following the war were filled with political demonstrations, strikes, violence against individual political leaders, collapsed governments and attempted coups. From this maelstrom emerged one of Portugal's most famous leaders of all time, Dr António de Oliveira Salazar.
Dr Salazar was asked to leave his job as professor of economics at the University of Coimbra, Portugal's oldest university, to take on the key job of finance minister. As such, he was extraordinarily successful in directing Portugal along the road to financial recovery. In 1932, he became prime minister and soon set up what was to be known as the New State, with a constitution which gave him dictatorial powers. The idea of the New State was to bring the decades of destructive political turmoil to an end and create harmony under a one-party, authoritarian regime.
World War II soon erupted. By agreement with her old ally Britain, Portugal remained neutral, although from 1943 she allowed British and United States forces the use of an island in the Azores as an air base. In 1949, Portugal became a founding member of NATO.
While the Second World War had left Portugal unscathed, in the early 1960's she found herself convulsed by her own colonial wars. They raged on three fronts in Africa : Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea. Portugal pumped man-power and money into combatting guerrilla movements fighting for national independence, but it was to no avail. Drained after 13 years of fighting, peace abroad was brought about by insurrection at home.


At thirty minutes past midnight on April 25, 1974, Rádio Renascença, a Lisbon station, played a popular piece of music called Grândola, Vila Morena. To those in the know, it was the pre-arranged signal to stage a military coup against the right-wing government of Salazar's successor, Marcello Caetano.
Before light, all the key buildings in the capital and the provinces had been occupied by rebel troops and the international airports of Lisbon, Oporto and Faro had been closed. There was virtually no resistance and no bloodshed. The "Revolution" had been a well-planned and classically executed coup d'etat led by disaffected young officers, mostly captains and majors. It brought the people of Portugal out into the streets in celebration because they too desperately wanted change after 40 years of dictatorship.
Free speech and party politics returned with a vengance. Business confidence and capital took flight as major industries were nationalised. Many family firms and large country estates were taken over by the workers. Almost a million citizens arrived from the war-torn former Portuguese territories in Africa. The mid-seventies were tumultuous times.
In the immediate post-revolution years the Socialist Party of Mário Soares vied with the Communists for control, but by 1979 the centre-right Social Democrats were in the ascendency. One elected coalition government after another collapsed until July 1987 when Anibal Cavaco Silva led the Social Democrats (PSD) to victory with the first overall parliamentary majority since the revolution. The PSD were returned again in the general election of 1991. In 1995 the electorate decided on a change and voted in the Socialist Party (PS).
The most far-reaching development since the 1974 revolution has been Portugal's admission to the European Community on January 1, 1986.

Portugal Today

Portugal is a little larger in land area than Scotland or the Republic of Ireland. It has a population of more than 10 million. About 30% of the population live in urban areas, the biggest cities being Lisbon and Oporto. It is a relatively young population. More than 25% are under 15-years-old; 63% are between 15 and 64; only 11.4% are over 65.
The official language is Portuguese, which is also spoken by another 150 million people around the world, mainly in Brazil and Portugal's former African territories.
Portugal is a parliamentary democracy with a President as head-of-state. He is much more than a figurehead. He holds significant overall powers, but he is not concerned with the day-to-day administration. That is left to the Prime Minister and his government.
Parliamentarians who sit in the Assembleia da República are elected every five years in a system of proportional representation. By far the two strongest parties are the centre-right Social Democrats, and the centre-left Socialist Party.
Economically, the services sector employs the biggest percentage of the workforce and contributes most to the GDP. It is followed by industry, farming and fishing.
About 70% of Portugal's foreign trade is with other European Union countries. The massive growth in volume of foreign investment over the last decade is a clear indication of confidence in the Portuguese economy. Direct foreign investment in recent years has come mainly from the United Kingdom, France and Spain.

The Algarve Today

Although an integral part of Portugal, the southernmost province is geographically distinct in character from the rest of the country, and its people have always been regarded as distinct as well.
The climate of the Algarve is milder and more equable than elsewhere in the country not only because of its southerly position and proximity to Africa, but because of a protective chain of hills along its northern boundary and the influences of the sea. In the east, the Algarve's boundary with Spain is marked by the Guadiana River. The southern as well as the western shores are washed by the Atlantic. The climate is of the Mediterranean type typified by long warm summers with most of the rain falling during the mild winters.
The combination of climate and clean, strikingly beautiful shores, means that the Algarve is tailor-made for tourism. The sunshine and the beaches are the biggest draw, but increased interest in recent years in cultural and countryside holidays plus the building of a string of superb golf courses has developed tourism into an all-year-round business. In terms of economics, tourism and associated services are by far the number one earner and employer.
Until recently, the holiday home construction industry was a big employer and a major factor in the economy, but it suffered badly because of the European recession and the introduction of tighter controls to stop over-development, which had been getting totally out-of-hand.
With the use of modern irrigation methods, the growing of citrus fruits, mainly oranges, has assumed far more importance than the labour-intensive cultivation of the big-five traditional crops: grapes, olives, almonds, figs and carobs. The big five are still widely grown and harvested using ancestral methods. Cork oak trees are still cultivated for their bark, but the hillier areas are now heavily forested with fast-growing and commercially profitable pine and eucalyptus trees.
The problem for many Algarve farmers is that national and international demand for their produce has slumped or is being met by more efficient farmers elsewhere. The problem for Algarve fishermen is that while local demand has hugely increased because of tourism, stocks have been drastically reduced because of over fishing.
The once important tuna fishing industry has collapsed altogether. An even more startling measure of the decline in the fishing industry is that nearly all the once frantically busy sardine canning factories along the south coast are closed and derelict.
So tourism is nowadays what it's really all about. Order has been restored since the unruly, gold-rush days of the 1980's, when no part of the Algarve's proud heritage and no stretch of its glorious coastline seemed immune to developers on the rampage with their backhanders and their bulldozers.
The bricks and mortar brigades, aided and abetted by the seemingly insatiable demands of mass-tourism, wreaked havoc along the Algarve's southern coastline until it was realised that they were destroying the very qualities that tourists were seeking.
There is now a heightened awareness that preservation of the region's environment and ecology are not only compatible with sound, tourism-based economical development, but essential to it.
"Quality" is the catchword as strenuous efforts are made throughout the Algarve tourist industry to improve standards of facilities and service, and to give good value for money in a highly competitive business field.