The Algarve (UK: /ælˈɡɑːrv, ˈælɡ-/, US: /ɑːlˈɡɑːrvə, ælˈ-/,[4][5][6][7][8][9] Portuguese: [alˈɡaɾvɨ] (About this soundlisten), Arabic: الغرب‎, romanizedal-gharb (Algarbe), lit.'the west') is the southernmost region of continental Portugal. It has an area of 4,997 km2 (1,929 sq mi)[10] with 451,006[11] permanent inhabitants, and incorporates 16 municipalities (concelho or município in Portuguese).[12]


Distrito de Faro
Algarve's typical coast (Marinha Beach, near Lagoa)
Algarve's typical coast (Marinha Beach, near Lagoa)
Location of the Algarve Region in relation to the national borders
Location of the Algarve Region in relation to the national borders
 • Total4,996.80 km2 (1,929.28 sq mi)
 • Total451,006 (5th)
Time zoneUTC+0 (WET)
 • Summer (DST)UTC+1 (WEST)
HDI (2018)0.834[1]
very high · 4th
GDP (PPP)2019 estimate
– Total€9,274 billion[2]
– Per capita€24,900[3]
GDP (nominal)2019 estimate
Statistics from INE (2005); geographic detail from Instituto Geográfico Português (2010)

The region has its administrative centre in the city of Faro, where both the region's international airport (IATA: FAO) and public university, the University of Algarve, are located. The region coincides with Faro District. Tourism and related activities are extensive and make up the bulk of the Algarve's summer economy. Production of food, which includes fish and other seafood, different types of fruit and veggies such as oranges, figs, plums, carob pods, almonds, tomatoes, cauliflowers, strawberries and raspberries, are also economically important in the region.

Although Lisbon surpasses the Algarve in terms of tourism revenue,[13] the Algarve is still, overall, considered to be the biggest and most important Portuguese tourist region, having received an estimated total of 7.1 million tourists in 2017.[14] Its population triples in the peak holiday season due to seasonal residents.[15] Due to the high standards of quality of life, mainly regarding safety and access to public health services, as well as due to cultural factors and considerably good weather conditions, the Algarve is becoming increasingly sought after, mostly by central and northern Europeans, as a permanent place to settle.[16] A 2016 American-based study concluded that the Algarve was the world's best place to retire.[17]

The Algarve is one of the most developed regions of Portugal and, with a GDP per capita at 83% of the European Union average, it has the second highest purchasing power in the country, standing only behind Lisbon.[3]


Estácio da Veiga's 1878 archeological map of the Algarve
Mosaic of Roman God Oceanus, found in Ossonoba, modern day Faro

Pre Roman timesEdit

Human presence in southern Portugal dates back to the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods. The presence of megalithic stones in the area of Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Alcoutim and elsewhere in the region attests to this presence.[18]

At around the year 1000 BC, the Phoenicians founded the city of Cádiz,[19] and, subsequently, coastal ports along the Algarve coast. Olissipo (Lisbon) is believed to be of Phoenician origin.[19] By the time of the Carthaginians, Portus Hannibalis – located in what is today either Portimão or Alvor - is named after Hannibal Barca.[19] The Cynetes, as they were known in Greek, Conii, in Latin,[20] were established by the sixth century BC in the region of the Algarve (called Cyneticum). Their ethnic and linguistic origins remain widely disputed, although, due to geographical proximity, it is possible that they were related both to Tartessos[21] and the Celtici, seeing that Conii, the likely designation they used to describe themselves,[20] is derived of the Proto-Celtic kwon ('dog').[22] These Indo-European tribes, Celtic or pre-Celtic, created a settlement in Lacóbriga (today's Lagos) in the year 1899 BC.[23]

Roman periodEdit

The Algarve region came under Roman control after Fabius Maximus Servilianus defeated the Lusitanians and the Turduli in the context of the Lusitanian War, as was the case of much of the Iberian Peninsula, which was absorbed into the Roman Republic in the second century BC. Cyneticum (in reference to the Cynetes who inhabited the region), as it was then called, became integrated into Hispania Ulterior and into Lusitania afterwards, being under Roman influence for around 600 years (from 200 BC till 410 AD), having thus adopted Latin as the official language, as well as Roman cultural, political, architectonic, religious and economic tenets.

Seeing that during this time traveling through the land was dangerous, its geography meant that Cyneticum was of crucial importance as a passageway between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, connecting countless Roman ports to several provinces, mainly in other parts of Hispania, Gaul and Britannia. This meant that the region experienced a great level of prosperity accrued through an expansion of its trading and commercial capabilities, mainly from the production and commercialization of olive oil and garum, products very much sought after throughout the Roman Empire.[24] As Christianity rose in popularity, becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great, Cyneticum, following the same tendency of the rest of the Roman provinces, made the transition from a polytheistic society into a monotheistic one. The region made a gradual changeover into Christianity, as Pagan and Animistic religions became obsolete under this new cultural influence. Roman Emperor Theodosius I, himself a native of the Iberian Peninsula, would come to prohibit Paganism in 381. The Roman Temple of Milreu, originally dedicated to Venus, transformed later on into a Paleochristian temple, is an example of the religious changes that took place in this period.[25]

Many Roman ruins, both in the form of temples, countryside villas (of which more than 30 were found in the Algarve), public baths, bridges, salting and fish-processing facilities and mosaics are widespread all over the region, notably in Vila do Bispo, Lagos, Portimão, Quarteira, Faro, Olhão, Tavira and in other areas, illustrating the strong contributions that Roman culture as a whole made to the Algarve.[26][27][28]

Medieval periodEdit

A Visigothic capital found in Silves
The city of Silves, the first capital of the Algarve and an example of the noticeable Moorish influence in the region

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe originally from Scandinavia but who had spread into Eastern Europe, occupied the Iberian Peninsula around the year 500. With the death of Amalaric in 531, the original dynastic shape of the Visigoths came to an end, and out of the fusion of the Roman and Germanic components a new Iberian identity came into being. The Visigothic Kingdom was thus founded in 542, with Toledo as its capital. Practicing Arianism at first, a big portion of the Visigoths eventually adopted Catholicism to secure their position in the region.[29] In 552, the Algarve was conquered by the Byzantine Empire and, in 571, Liuvigild managed to secure the region for the Visigothic Kingdom once again, which lasted until the year 711, and comprised most of the Iberian Peninsula and parts of modern France.

When the Moors conquered Lagos in 716, it was renamed Zawaia. Faro, which the Christian residents had called Santa Maria, was renamed Faraon, which means "settlement of the knights". Due to the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, the region was called Gharb Al-Andalus: Gharb means "the west", while al-Andalus is the Arabic name for the Iberian Peninsula. For several years, the town of Silves was the capital of the region. In the mid-13th century, during the Reconquista, the Kingdom of Portugal took over the region in a series of successful military campaigns against the Moors. Al-Gharb became the Kingdom of the Algarve, and the Moors were expelled in 1294. There were subsequent Moorish attempts to recapture the region, without success. King Afonso III of Portugal started calling himself King of Portugal and the Algarve. After 1471, with the conquest of several territories in the Maghreb – the area considered an extension of the Algarve – Afonso V of Portugal began fashioning himself "King of Portugal and the Algarves", referring to the European and African possessions. The over five centuries-long Moorish rule over the Algarve (and Alentejo), left their mark and added to a unique blend of architectonic,[30][31] gastronomical[32]and artistic features[33] like the traditional Algarve corridinho,[34] a folk dance found in this southernmost region of Portugal.

Modern timesEdit

Prior to the independence of Brazil, "United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves" (1815–1822) was an official designation for Portugal which also alluded to the Algarve. Portuguese monarchs continued to use this title until the proclamation of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910. Between 1595 and 1808, the Algarve was a semiautonomous area of Portugal with its own governor, as well as a separate taxation system.[citation needed]

The walls of the ancient town of Lagos

In the 15th century, Prince Henry the Navigator based himself near Lagos and conducted various maritime expeditions which established the colonies that comprised the Portuguese Empire. Also from Lagos, Gil Eanes set sail in 1434 to become the first seafarer to round Cape Bojador in West Africa. The voyages of discovery brought Lagos fame and fortune. Trade flourished and Lagos became the capital of the historical province of Algarve in 1577 and remained so until the fabled 1755 Lisbon earthquake. The earthquake damaged many areas in the Algarve and an accompanying tsunami destroyed or damaged coastal fortresses, while coastal towns and villages were heavily damaged except Faro, which was protected by the sandy banks of Ria Formosa lagoon. In Lagos, the waves reached the top of the city walls. For many Portuguese coastal regions, including the Algarve, the destructive effects of the tsunami were more disastrous than those of the earthquake itself.

In 1807, while Jean-Andoche Junot led the first Napoleonic invasion in the north of Portugal, the Algarve was occupied by Spanish troops under Manuel Godoy. Beginning in 1808, and after subsequent battles in various towns and villages, the region was the first to drive out the Spanish occupiers.

Remexido was a civil servant and wealthy land tenant who became a notorious guerrilla leader of the Algarve in Portugal, defending the rights of king Miguel to the Portuguese throne and the antiliberal absolute monarchy in the Kingdom of Portugal.

During the Portuguese Civil War, several battles took place in the region, especially the battle of Cape St. Vicente and the battle of Sant’Ana, between liberals and Miguelites. Remexido was the guerrilla Algarvian leader who stood with the Miguelite absolutists for years, until he was executed in Faro in 1838.[35]

The establishment of the First Portuguese Republic in 1910 marked the end of the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarve. The Algarve is a somewhat exotic region for the Portuguese, due to the Mediterranean climate, unique foods, architecture, and geographical location- many Portuguese traditionally spend their Summer break or own a holiday home in the Algarve.


The Algarve covers 4997 km2,[10] extending just south of the Tagus valley to the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula, joining Spain. Its highest point is Fóia, 902 m (2,959 ft), in the mountain range of Monchique. It also includes some islands and islets. The region is also the home of the Ria Formosa Lagoon, a nature reserve of over 170 km2 and a stopping place for hundreds of different species of birds. The length of the south-facing coastline is roughly 155 km. Beyond the westernmost point of Cape St. Vincent it stretches a further 50 km to the north. The coastline is notable for picturesque limestone caves and grottoes, particularly around Lagos, which are accessible by powerboat.

A panoramic view from the highest point Fóia of the mountain range of Monchique


The Algarve as a whole is one of the warmest places of Southern Europe, with an Atlantic influenced Mediterranean climate, it has mild wet winters and warm to very hot, dry summers. It is overall the sunniest region in Europe, with annual sunshine values ranging from 2700 h in the Monchique Range, to values well above 3100 h on the southern coast.[36][37][38][39]

Generally, winter sees only subtle differences in daily maxima along the coast, mostly between 16 and 17 °C (61 and 63 °F), though temperatures as high as 25 °C (77 °F) have been recorded. Conversely, overnight lows are higher in the west, with Sagres and Vila do Bispo averaging 9–10 °C (48–50 °F), whilst to the east, averages are lower and 7–8 °C (45–46 °F) is more common. Temperatures very rarely fall below freezing (< 0 °C (32 °F)). On the interior, nights are usually cooler, averaging 4–5 °C (39–41 °F).

Summer sees its highest average temperatures in the east, where the maxima ranges from 29–30 °C (84–86 °F) in the coast and 32–35 °C (90–95 °F) in the interior. Daily temperatures in the Vicentine Coast are much cooler, usually 24–25 °C (75–77 °F) maxima, consequence of the strong upwelling western Portugal experiences. The Algarvian interior can get very hot in the summer, temperatures above 45 °C (113 °F) are not uncommon. Overnight lows are often independent on the location, around 17–20 °C (63–68 °F) in most of the Algarve.

Portuguese waters, including the Algarve, experience a great level of seasonal lag, particularly the west coast, this means the lowest water temperatures are recorded in March and the highest in September-October. This aplies to the Vicentine Coast, where ocean temperatures average 16 °C (61 °F) in February-March and 21 °C (70 °F) in August-October.[40] The southeast coast usually doesn't experience this effect as much, water temperatures average 15.5–16 °C (59.9–60.8 °F) in February-March and 22 °C (72 °F) in July-September,[41] though in the summer, outflow of warm Mediterranean water can sometimes bathe the Algarve with warmer ocean temperatures.

Climate data for Faro (FAO)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 21.9
Average high °C (°F) 16.1
Daily mean °C (°F) 12.0
Average low °C (°F) 7.9
Record low °C (°F) −1.2
Average precipitation mm (inches) 59.3
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm) 12 13 9 10 7 4 1 1 3 9 10 11 90
Mean monthly sunshine hours 182.1 172.0 242.6 253.6 305.0 326.9 360.6 344.9 279.1 227.0 191.6 159.0 3,044.4
Percent possible sunshine 59 56 65 64 68 74 81 82 75 65 63 53 67
Source: Instituto de Meteorologia,[42] World Meteorological Organization[43] (precipitation days), Hong Kong Observatory[44][45](sunshine hours)
Aerial view of Cape St. Vincent, the southwestern edge of the Algarve coast
A view of Odeceixe, in northwestern Algarve
The interior of the Algarve consists of small villages and is sparsely inhabited.

Human geographyEdit

About 450,000 permanent inhabitants (90 residents per km2) live in the area, although this figure increases to over a million people at the height of summer, due to an influx of tourists. The Algarve has several cities, towns, and villages; the region's capital is the city of Faro, while other cities include Albufeira, Lagoa, Lagos, Loulé, Olhão, Portimão, Quarteira, Silves, Tavira, and Vila Real de Santo António, in addition to various summer retreats such as Vilamoura, Praia da Rocha, Armação de Pêra, Alvor, Monte Gordo, Alcoutim, and Sagres.

Before 2004, the Faro District was the administrative unit governing the Algarve. In 2004, the Greater Metropolitan Area of the Algarve was formed, which was converted into an intermunicipal community in 2008.[46] Algarve is also a NUTS II and NUTS III statistical region.[47] The intermunicipal community of Algarve is subdivided into 16 municipalities:[12]

Municipality Population (2011)[11] Area (km²)[10]
Albufeira 40,828 140.66
Alcoutim 2,917 575.36
Aljezur 5,884 323.50
Castro Marim 6,747 300.84
Faro 64,560 202.57
Lagoa 22,975 88.25
Lagos 31,049 212.99
Loulé 70,622 763.67
Monchique 6,045 395.30
Olhão 45,396 130.86
Portimão 55,614 182.06
São Brás de Alportel 10,662 153.37
Silves 37,126 680.06
Tavira 26,167 606.97
Vila do Bispo 5,258 179.06
Vila Real de Santo António 19,156 61.25
Total 451,006 4996.80


A complex of apartments overlooking the beach in Praia da Rocha, Portimão. The Algarve relies heavily on the tourism industry.
A panoramic view of Faro, the capital of the Algarve
The Algarve features some of Europe's top golf courses.

Agricultural products of the region include fig, almond, orange, carob and cork oak. Horticulture is important and the region's landscape is known for the large areas of land covered with greenhouses which are used to that end. Several types of fruit and veggies such as tomatoes, cauliflowers, strawberry and raspberry, are commercially grown and exported. Fishing and aquaculture are important activities in the coastal area of the Algarve, with sardines, squids, soles, cyprinids, gilt-head bream, and various seafood, including the grooved carpet shell, being the major products. The Algarve's wines are also renowned. Four wines in the region have Protected Designation of Origin (Denominação de Origem Controlada – DOC): Lagoa DOC, Lagos DOC, Portimão DOC, and Tavira DOC. Food processing, cement and construction are the main industries. Tourism-related activities are extensive and make up the bulk of the Algarve's economy during summer. The Algarve's economy has always been closely linked to the sea, and fishing has been an important activity since ancient times. Only since the 1960s has the region embraced tourism, which has become its most important economic activity. With the increase in life quality and purchasing power, many shopping malls have been constructed, mostly in the past 15–20 years. Recently,[when?] an Ikea opened in Loulé, one of five in Portugal.

In 2017, the Algarve was the Portuguese region that experienced the biggest economic growth, an increase of 4.6% of its GDP.[48]


The Algarve has been experiencing a strong development since the beginning of the 1960s, initially due to the need to accommodate its foreign visitors. The region started the construction of better infrastructure, mainly roads, sanitation, power grids, telecommunications, hospitals, and housing. Due to the austerity measures introduced in 2011, tolls were placed on the main motorway that crosses the region to offset the expense of its maintenance. Private investors, with the support of municipalities, also began the construction of a variety of hotels, resorts, golf courses (which are considered to be some of the best in Europe), and villas. All this led to a large development in the region, especially for the locals, who had previously lived in harsher circumstances. Today, the Algarve is amongst the regions in Portugal with the best quality of life.[49]


In the 1960s, the Algarve became a popular destination for tourists, mainly from the United Kingdom. It has since become a common destination for people from Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland. Many of these tourists own a property in the region. Algarve-based publications and newspapers are written in English specifically for this community. In recent years, the Algarve has seen a high increase in tourists from France, Spain and Italy, followed by Canadians, Americans, and Australians. Portuguese people from other parts of the country also visit the region in large numbers, especially in the peak of the summer (July and August).

Praia da Rocha, Portimão, one of many sites that attract tourists

Tourist attractions in the region include its beaches, Mediterranean climate, safety, cuisine, and relatively low prices. Well-known beaches in the Algarve include Marinha Beach, Praia da Rocha and Armação de Pêra. A well-known spa town is Caldas de Monchique. In addition to its natural features and beaches, the Algarve has invested in the creation of a network of golf courses.

The Algarve is also popular for religious tourism, notably pilgrimages to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Piety (best known as the Sovereign Mother), a Marian shrine dedicated to the patron saint of Loulé, that attract thousands of pilgrims of the Catholic faith to the city, or with the international pilgrimages to the site of the apparitions of Our Lady Mother of Goodness occurred near São Marcos da Serra.

The procession of the Sovereign Mother (Our Lady of Piety) attracts thousands of pilgrims to the Marian shrine of Loulé, in the Algarve.

The Algarve's mild climate attracts interest from Portuguese and Northern European people wishing to have a holiday home or residence in the region. Being a region of Portugal, and therefore in the European Union, any EU citizen has the right to freely buy property and reside with little formality in the Algarve.[50]

Tourism plays an important role in the economy of the Algarve. A large number of seasonal job opportunities are tourism-related and are fulfilled by thousands of locals and immigrants. Due to its seasonal nature, most of the economy relies on the good weather available mostly for only about 5–6 months (characterised by a prolonged lack of rain and temperatures above 30 °C throughout the day), meaning that many Algarvians go unemployed during the low season. Nonetheless, due to the very high monetary income that the high season brings, most people in the Algarve are still able to have comfortable lives even while unemployed.

Beach of Albufeira.

In March 2007, the Portuguese economic minister, Manuel Pinho, announced the creation of the "Allgarve" brand, as a part of a strategic promotion of the Algarve as a tourism destination for foreign citizens.[51] According to World Travel Awards, the Algarve was Europe's leading golf destination in 2013 and 2014.[52][53] Over 25 top-class courses are located in the Algarve, most of which were designed by legendary names such as Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, and Christy O'Connor, Jr.

In 2018, the region's income from tourism was over a billion euros; the number of visitors totaled 4.2 million. Tourism contributed €1.08 billion to the economy in that year.[54]


A view of the abandoned and bankrupt Ocean Ville apartment Hotel in the neighbourhood of Pátio, Albufeira, 2017.

Although tourism and a generally high receptivity to globalism and foreign direct investment have brought a relatively high level of prosperity and development to the region, many personalities criticize the environmental impacts,[55] the high cost of living and the eradication of Algarve's cultural and traditional characteristics that such outside influence has brought.[56][57] Algarve native Fernando Silva Grade, a nationally renowned biologist, architect and activist, in his book O Algarve como o destruímos, vehemently opposed the proliferation of the mass tourism and construction sectors, which, in his opinion, eroded large portions of a world unique coastline, degraded and destroyed Algarve's traditional architecture, along with the peaceful and slow-paced way of life that were once ubiquitous throughout the region. He further went on to criticize the inapt attitudes of politicians and city halls which continuously fail to preserve this legacy.[58]

Other critics underline the over-dependency on the "sun and beach" modality of tourism, the one mostly advertised by local and national authorities and, thus, most widespread. They accentuate the saturation of beach-side resorts that leave other types of tourist establishments, such as the ones dedicated to nature and health, with little occupancy. These critics also stress that overcrowdedness, filthiness and pollution are the consequences of this lack of diversity in the Algarve's tourism industry.[59]


A view of Vilamoura, its marina and hotels.

Accommodation in the Algarve ranges from high-rise resorts in places such as Albufeira, Vilamoura, Praia da Rocha and Armação de Pêra to apartment rental, bed and breakfast, hostels and traditional guesthouses located in small towns and villages, both inland and alongside the Algarve coast. Over the past few years, tourists with less acquisitive power have started visiting the Algarve in large numbers and steering away from expensive resorts, opting instead for more affordable touristic establishments such as guesthouses and hostels. Besides affordability, a higher flexibility in rules and conditions, good overall location, as well as a greater hospitality and interaction with guests, are often cited as some of the appealing factors of these accommodations. Throughout the Algarve, local accommodation, as its colloquially known, employs over 20 thousand people in more than 32 thousand legal establishments and generates an estimated 980 million Euros yearly. The vast majority of tourists who seek this type of accommodation are British, Portuguese and French, but an exponential increase in tourists from Germany, Spain and Brazil has also been seen.[60]


The University of Algarve, headquartered in Faro, with an extension in Portimão, is a public university which awards all academic degrees in fields ranging from medicine and marine biology to economics and environmental engineering. The population of the Algarve is also served by several private higher-education institutions (Instituto Piaget in Silves, and others), state-run and private secondary schools, including a number of international schools, and a wide network of kindergartens and primary schools.


The 30,000-seat Algarve Stadium (Estádio Algarve) was built as a venue for UEFA Euro 2004.

The Algarve has many sports clubs, including football teams (S.C. Olhanense, Portimonense S.C., S.C. Farense, Imortal de Albufeira, etc.) which play in the first, second, and third lay tiers of professional football. S.C. Farense is the most successful football club in the Algarve and usually plays in the country's top-tier football. There are numerous open-water swimming events throughout the year[61] as well as tennis. The Algarve is also home to some of the world’s most renowned golf-courses.[62]

Algarve International Circuit, a motorsport venue, is located in the region.

Due to the strong Nortada winds blowing through the South coast of Portugal, Algarve is a popular summer holiday destination for the wind sports. Sailing, windsurfing and especially kitesurfing has a large and growing community. The nature of the Algarve coastline offers a mix of flat water lagoons such as those of the famous Ria Formosa Nature Park, or the waves of Sagres and the South-west coast.

There are many kitesurfing spots[63] dotted all along the Algarve coastline but the most popular are:

  • Alvor lagoon (South, Lagos)
  • Meia Praia (South, Lagos)
  • Martinhal (South-west, Sagres)
  • Tonel (South-west, Sagres)
  • Praia Da Bordeira (South-west, Carrapateira)
  • Amado (South-west, Carrapateira)
  • Ilha de Culatra (South, Faro)
  • Ilha da Barreta / Ilha Deserta (South, Faro)
  • Barrinha (South, Faro)
  • Praia de Faro (South, Faro)
  • Praia Fuseta (South-east, Fuseta)
  • Barril's Beach (South-east, Luz)
  • Cabanas de Tavira (South-east, Tavira)


Traditional hand-painted pottery from Porches
Portuguese Water Dogs are native to the Algarve; they were the fisherman's main companion and often accompanied sailors during the Portuguese discoveries.
The Algarve once had the largest population of the Iberian lynx in Portugal. However, no lynxes in the wild have been reported in the region since 2003.
Common dolphin in Algarvian waters.

The Algarve is famous for its pottery and ceramics, particularly hand-painted pottery and azulejos, which are painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles. Numerous ceramics and pottery outlets are open throughout the Algarve. For working potteries and ceramics workshops, the main (or best-known) pottery centers are located in the towns of Almancil, Porches, and Loulé, but many other potteries and workshops are in the Algarve region. Corridinho is the traditional dance of the Algarve.

Notable natives and inhabitantsEdit


See alsoEdit


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