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Portugal - Algarve Holidays

The Cultural Jewels of the Algarve

Map of Portugal showing the Algarve Region in red - Links to an interactive Algarve MapThe original settlers in Portugal`s Algarve were probably fishermen, similar to the ancient Carthaginians who lived off the coastal resources and the Phoenicians who established the region`s first trading posts. In the beginning the Algarve was a completely separate kingdom from that of Portugal. One of the most important aspects of the Algarve is that it was occupied by the Arabs for five centuries, and it is from the Arabs that the area gets its name, al-gharb, meaning western land. The Arabs left their mark on the architecture of the Algarve and you will still find the tiles and latticed chimneys common to that culture. You will also find that many of the towns and villages are prefaced with Al, as they are in the Middle East. The people from the Algarve are known as Algarvios.

At one time the Algarve belonged to the Roman province of Lusitania and was conquered by the Visigoths in 470. There is still evidence of the presence of the Romans in places like Vilamoura, Faro and Boca do Rio


In the early years of the eighth century the King of the Visigoths was defeated and eventually the Algarve fell to Abd Al-Aziz Ben Mussa when he conquered the Gharb Al Andulaz.

Al Gharb meaning the west and Andulaz, the land of the vandals. The Arabs made Silves the capital of the Algarve during their occupation. Although the region remained in the hands of the Arabs for the next five hundred years, it was a war torn reign until the Christians reclaimed it in the early thirteenth century. The Portuguese monarch became known as King of Portugal and of the Algarves from 1249 until the Republic proclamation. The area was occupied by the Spanish from 1580-1640 and in 1807 the intrusion of Napoleons army led to the royal family escaping to Brazil where they remained until Napoleon`s final defeat.

From the thirteenth century onwards Portugal was one of the countries that discovered and conquered new land, and because the Algarve was used as one of the main departure ports, it also played a part in this aspect of the region`s history. The Algarvios were important in the discovery and occupation of parts of Africa. Much of the Algarve was destroyed in the huge earthquake of 1755, and a lot of the monuments were lost, but there are still plenty of cultural jewels for visitors to see when they travel to the Algarve.



The Algarve is located at the tip of Europe with the Atlantic Ocean at its Southern and Western borders the climate it great.

The Algarve has more than a hundred beautiful beaches and many people visit for the sun, sea, sand and laid back lifestyle. Although eighteenth century earthquakes wiped out much of the ancient cultural heritage of the region, it still has plenty of cultural value that also attracts many visitors each year.

Above the town of Aljezur, are the ruins of the castle of Aljezur, the castle dominated the region until the 1755 earthquake. The remains consist of a walled area with two towers, one round and one square and there was a covered area with a high roof and vaulted ceilings. Although the castle is in ruins, there are lots of stories about it because it played such an important part in the region`s history for several hundred years. The Cape Saint Vincent Sagres is an important area as it has some of the remaining ancient cultural heritage of the Algarve. In the pre-Christian period the Cape was dedicated to the sun god and there are many pre-historic obelisks to support this fact. In the 6th Century BC the Cape was dedicated to the god Saturn as its rugged outline was considered to be frightening by many people.

The Algarvian Ethnographic Museum was built in the nineteenth century and portrays some of the social history of the area through clothes, vehicles and some pieces that date right back to ancient times. The museum is also worth a visit for the building itself which is constructed in the Arabian style with sixteen rooms set around a courtyard. The second important museum is the municipal museum in Silves, which has at its heart, a thirteenth century cistern well. The museum is divided into four periods, pre-history, Roman, Moslem and Portuguese periods.

Faro is the capital of the Algarve and it is surrounded by Roman walls that predate the Arab occupation and just inside the walls there is a Cathedral that was built in the thirteenth century, after the region was retaken by the Christians. There are other parts of the old town of Faro that date back to Roman times and are well worth a visit As you come in through the Arco de Vila town gate then opposite the Cathedral is the bishop`s palace and a sixteenth century convent that houses the archaeological museum. The Algarve has much to offer and you need time on your Algarve holiday to appreciate its cultural jewels.

TMUK apologise for the repetition of some place or proper names with different
spellings, but where this happens there is either no definitive spelling translation
of these words or the place is known by different names by different peoples.

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The Algarve region is divided into 16 municipalities: Albufeira, Alcoutim, Aljezur, Castro Marim, Faro, Lagoa, Lagos, Loulé, Monchique, Olhão, Portimão, São Brás de Alportel, Silves, Tavira, Vila do Bispo and Vila Real de Santo António.
Note: the Algarve region and the Faro district are coexistent (comprise exactly the same territory).

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