Province in the far south of Portugal; its name comes from the Arabic al-Gharb, meaning the West. The Moslem al-Gharb was much more extensive than the later Algarve, similar to the Roman province of Lusitania, which combined most of later Portugal with Extremadura in Spain. With the Christian advance it was an area that receded until it was the southern coastal land to which its name has stuck.
Silves, in the west, had been the capital of a Taifa state in the region and was taken by the Portuguese in 1189, but was soon lost. It was not until 1238-50 that the permanent conquest of the province took place. The Moslem ruler of Niebla, who continued to rule in that southern town with the consent of Ferdinand III of Castile, claimed the Algarve as part of his territory but after the Portuguese conquest he ceded his rights to Ferdinand’s heir, the future Alfonso X. Both before his father’s death in 1252 and after it, Alfonso X campaigned against Alfonso III of Portugal. In 1253 the two Kings came to an agreement, as a result of Papal mediation. Alfonso III was to marry Alfonso X’s bastard daughter Brites, who was still a child, and was recognised as the sovereign of the Algarve, but Alfonso X was to have the usufruct of the land until the eldest son of the marriage reached the age of seven, when it would fully pass back to Portugal. Alfonso X therefore would have control of the Algarve for several years, given the age of his daughter. There was also a further encumbrance, which both the Kings and the Pope passed over in silence. Alfonso III happened to have a wife already – the childless Countess Matilda of Boulogne, who did not stay silent. A couple of Papal arrangements later became necessary to end the marriage with Matilda and to legitimate the children who had by then been born to Brites. In 1267, the year before the future King Dinis reached the age of seven, the Kings of Castile and Portugal agreed in the Treaty of Badajoz that Alfonso X would forthwith give up his rights in the Algarve. The Kings of Portugal had earned their title of King of Portugal and the Algarve.
In 1415 Portugal took Ceuta on the north Moroccan coast, and between 1469 and 1471 gained control of the northwestern shores of Morocco, including Tangiers in 1471. This north African territory was known as the Kingdom of Algarve daoem mar (Algarve across the sea) and passed to Spain along with the entire Kingdom of Portugal in 1580. When Portugal recovered its independence, only Tangiers briefly (1660-2) returned to Portugal.
In 1833 the province became the district of Faro (a town on the coast – the southernmost region of al-Gharb had been called al-Fagar); from the 1930s, when new provinces were placed alongside the districts, the new province of Algarve occupied the same territory as the district of Faro until the end of the Salazarist regime.