It is agreed that the human presence in the south-western Algarve goes back at least as far as the Neolithic period and, if some shallow graves are to be trusted, may date back to the Palaeolithic period, when Europe and Africa were joined together by an isthmus. The large number of menhirs - standing alone, in groups or in cromlechs - is one of the most important vestiges of the past to be found in the Vila do Bispo area.
Celtici, Phoenicians and Romans
The Conii, influenced by Tartessos, were established by the sixth century BC in the region of the Algarve. They would be strongly influenced by the Celtici. The Phoenicians had established trading ports along the coast circa 1000 BC. The Carthaginians founded Portus Hanibalis—known today as Portimão—in circa 550 BC. The Romans in the 2nd century BC spread through the Iberian Peninsula, and many Roman ruins can still be seen in the region, notably in Lagos and near Faro.
The Moorish period
n the 5th century, the Visigoths inhabited the Algarve until the beginning of the Moorish invasion in 711. When the Moors conquered Lagos in 716 it was called Zawaia. Faro, which the Christian residents had called Santa Maria, was renamed Faraon, which means "the settlement of the Knights".
Due to the Moorish occupation of much of Iberia, the region was called "Al-Gharb" which means "the country of the West". In the 12th century, the Moorish occupation ended: the "Al-Gharb" has been since then the Algarve. It was not until the 13th century that the Portuguese finally secured the region against subsequent Moorish attempts to recapture the area.
The Age of the Portuguese Discoveries
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 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 search of new worlds to give to the world.
The Algarve was a semi-autonomous area with a governor from 1595 to 1808, as well as a separate taxation system until the end of the 18th century. During this time, to reflect the Algarve's unique status, Portuguese monarchs were known as "the King of Portugal and Algarve". In 1807, when Junot was leading the first Napoleonic invasion in the north of Portugal, the Algarve was occupied by the Spanish troops of Manuel Godoy. The Algarve became the first part of Portugal to liberate itself from Spanish occupation, in the rebellion of Olhão in 1808.
In 1755 a terrible earthquake destroyed large parts of the Algarve, leaving only ruins of many of the historic buildings. When rebuilding the major cities, the administrative centre was shifted from Lagos to Faro.
The Algarve's economy has always been closely linked to the sea, and fishing has been an important activity since ancient times. Only since 1960, has the region embraced tourism, which has become its most important economic activity.