The province was added to the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves in March 2016.
Long before the Spaniards arrived, Albay had a thriving civilization. Formerly called Ibat, and then Bogli, Albay was once ruled by Gat Ibal, an old chief who also founded the old barangay of Sawangan, now part of the city of Legazpi.
In July 1569, Luis Enriquez de Guzman, a member of the expedition led by Maestro de Campo Mateo de Saz and Captain Martin de Goiti, led a group which crossed from Burias and Ticao islands and landed on a coastal settlement called Ibalon in what is now the province of Sorsogon. From this point another expedition was sent to explore the interior and founded the town of Camalig.
In 1573, Juan de Salcedo penetrated the Bicol Peninsula from the north as far south as Libon, establishing the settlement of Santiago de Libon. Jose Maria Peñaranda, a military engineer, was made “corregidor” of the province on May 14, 1834. He constructed public buildings and built roads and bridges.
The entire Bicol Peninsula was organized as one province with two divisions, Camarines in the northwest and Ibalon in the southeast. In 1636, the two partidos were separated, and Ibalon became a separate province with Sorsogon as capital. In the 17th century, Moro slave raiders from southern Philippines ravaged the northeastern coastal areas of the province of Albay.
Mayon Volcano, in one of its most violent eruptions, destroyed the five towns surrounding its base on February 1, 1814. This eruption forced the town of Cagsawa to relocate to its present site, Legazpi.
A decree was issued by Governor-General Narciso Claveria in 1846 separating Masbate, Ticao and Burias from Albay to form the comandancia of Masbate. Albay was then divided into four districts: Iraya, Cordillera or Tabaco, Sorsogon and Catanduanes.
Glicerio Delgado, a condemned insurecto (insurgent), started revolutionary activities in the province. With a headquarters in the mountain of Guinobatan town, he joined the revolutionary government of Albay as a lieutenant in the infantry.
A unit of the Philippine Militia was then organized by the Spanish military authorities. Mariano Riosa was appointed major of the Tabaco Zone, which comprised all the towns along the seacoast from Albay to Tiwi while Anacieto Solano was appointed major for the Iraya Zone, which was made up of the towns from Daraga to Libon. Each town was organized into sections of fifty men under the command of a lieutenant.
During the Philippine Revolution on September 22, 1898, the provisional revolutionary government of Albay was formed with Anacieto Solano as provisional president. Major General Vito Belarmino, the appointed military commander, reorganized the Filipino Army in the province.
The sovereignty of the country was transferred to the United States after the Treaty of Paris (1898). During the Philippine–American War, Brigadier General William August Kobbé headed the expedition that landed at the ports of Sorsogon, Bulan and Donsol. From there, the Americans marched to Legazpi and captured it.
Although a civil government was established in Albay on April 26, 1901, Colonel Harry Hill Bandholtz, Commanding Officer of the Constabulary in the Bicol Region, said that General Simeon Ola, with a thousand men, continued to defy American authority after the capture of Belarmino in 1901. Ola was later captured with about six hundred of his men.
Following the December 12, 1941 Japanese invasion of Legaspi during the Second World War, the Kimura Detachment of the Imperial Japanese Army occupied Albay Province. The region was defended only by the Philippine Constabulary unit under the command of Major Francisco Sandico.
During the Japanese Occupation, the military general headquarters of the Commonwealth Army of the Philippines remained active from January 3, 1942 to June 30, 1946, and the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Constabulary was established from October 28, 1944 to June 30, 1946 and stationed in Albay. Then came the clearing operations and anti-Japanese insurgency in the Bicol Peninsula, helped by the local Bicolano resistance. Some Bicolano guerrilla groups invaded around the province of Albay during the Japanese Insurgencies between 1942 and 1944, and were supported by local Filipino troops under the Philippine Commonwealth Army and pre-war Philippine Constabulary 5th Infantry Regiments attacking the enemy soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army. In the aftermath of three years of siege and conflicts, many Bicolano guerrillas were forced to retreat by the Japanese around the province before liberation in 1945 by Allied forces.
In 1945, Filipino soldiers of the 5th, 51st, 52nd, 54th, 55th, 56th and 57th Infantry Division of the Philippine Commonwealth Army and the 5th Infantry Regiment of the Philippine Constabulary participated in the liberation, recaptured the province of Albay and helped Bicolano guerrilla fighters and American soldiers defeat the Kimura Detachment of the Japanese Imperial Forces. A major role in the resistance and liberation of Albay was played by Major Faustino Martinez Flor of the Philippine Army's Bicol Brigades unit. The Bicol Brigades were assisted by the U.S. Navy through Major Faustino Flor's eldest brother Julian Martinez Flor (1901–1990), who had joined the U.S. Navy in 1919 as a machinist in the Overhaul and Repair Dept. at the North Island Naval Air Station. Eventually Julian Flor became a Warrant Officer, and retired in 1935, returning to the Philippines. A few years later, when Japan invaded the Philippines, the U.S. Navy reinstated Julian Flor back into service to assist his younger brother Major Faustino M. Flor, and the Philippine Armies "Bicol Brigades." Their base of operations was the Sto. Domingo Church, where the Flor's maternal great-grandfather was buried in July 1873. The Flor brothers, especially Major Faustino, are still held in high regard by the people in Bicol, Albay. After the war ended, U.S. President Harry S. Truman and Naval Secretary James Forrestal personally awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart to Julian Flor for his "heroic achievement for his planning, and execution of Guerrilla activities mainly in the Bicol Province, but also in Cavite, and Leyte Gulf. Julian Flor is credited for surviving and escaping a Japanese military camp, saving 4 downed American airmen, and stealing vital papers which revealed various strategic Japanese military plans."
Albay has a total land area of 2,575.77 square kilometres (994.51 sq mi), which makes it the 53rd biggest province. The province is bordered by the provinces of Camarines Sur to the north and Sorsogon to the south. To the northeast lies the Lagonoy Gulf, which separates the province from Catanduanes. To the southwest of the province is the Burias Pass with the island of Burias of Masbate province located about 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) offshore.
In 2016, an area of 250,000 hectares (620,000 acres) was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Albay Biosphere Reserve is home to 182 terrestrial plant species, of which 46 are endemic to the Philippines. Its marine waters and coastal area also provide habitat to five of the world's seven marine turtle species, as well as mangrove, seagrass and seaweed ecosystems.
The province is generally mountainous with scattered fertile plains and valleys. On the eastern part of the province is a line of volcanic mountains starting with the northernmost Malinao in Tiwi, followed by Mount Masaraga and the free-standing Mayon Volcano. Separated by the Poliqui Bay is the Pocdol Mountains in the town of Manito.
The stratovolcano of Mayon standing at around 2,462 metres (8,077 ft), is the highest point of the province. It is the most famous landform in Albay and in the whole Bicol Region. This active volcano falls under the jurisdiction of eight municipalities and cities of Albay: Camalig, Daraga, Guinobatan, Legazpi City, Ligao City, Malilipot, Santo Domingo, and Tabaco City.
The western coast of the province is mountainous but not as prominent as the eastern range with the highest elevation at around 490 metres (1,610 ft). Among these mountains are Mount Catburawan in Ligao and Mount Pantao in Oas.
Albay comprises 18 municipalities/towns and three component cities (Legazpi, Ligao and Tabaco).
The population of Albay in the 2015 census was 1,314,826 people,, making it the 20th most populous province in the country. It had a density of 510 inhabitants per square kilometre or 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. Based on the 2007 census, there were 208,640 households in the province with an average size of 5.22 persons, significantly higher than the national average of 4.99.
Catholicism is the predominant religion in the province affiliated by 97% of the Albay population. Each town has its own fiesta for their patrons and patronesses. Other religious denominations are the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), other Protestant churches such as the Baptist Church, Methodist, other Evangelical Christians, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses as well as Islam.
Albay is home to several languages and host to different native languages of Bicol Region. Out of seven Bikol languages (except Bisakol, which is half-Visayan), only Pandan Bikol of northern Catanduanes is not used or which the origin is not from Albay. The languages in the province is very diverse which includes the languages of Albay Bikol group which comprises the languages of West Miraya, East Miraya, Libon and Buhinon. Of the four Albay Bikol languages, Buhinon is the only one not used in Albay but rather in Buhi, Camarines Sur.
Rinconada Bikol is a minority language in the province and used by people in barangays of Libon and Polangui that are near the boundary of Bato and Iriga City in Camarines Sur. Another primary language used in the province is Central Bikol which is the native-tongue of the population on the eastern coast of the Bicol Peninsula. Both Albay Bikol languages and Rinconada Bikol are members of Inland Bikol group of languages while Central Bikol is a language member of Coastal Bikol. The Tabaco-Legazpi-Sorsogon dialect of Central Bikol is spoken in Legazpi City, Tabaco City and neighboring municipalities on the east side of Albay, and some parts of northern Sorsogon (especially in Sorsogon City).
The majority of the inhabitants also understand English and Filipino as second languages.
Agriculture is the main industry in Albay, which produces crops like coconut, rice, sugar and abacá. Handicrafts are the major source of rural income and comprises a fairly large share in the small-scale industries of the province. Forestry, cement production and paper-making are other sources of livelihood. The manufacture of abacá products such as Manila hemp, hats, bags, mats, furniture, home decors, and slippers is one of the main sources of income in the rural areas. Production of abaca fiber experienced a boom from the late 1800s until the American period. Fishing is the main livelihood along both shores of the province. Tourism, especially related to Mayon Volcano, also creates income for Albay. For the year 2013, Albay had a total of 339,445 foreign tourist arrivals.
Albay has three congressional districts encompassing its 18 municipalities and 3 component cities.
Albay has 383.22 kilometers (238.12 mi) of national roads, mostly paved with asphalt, with 5.25 kilometers (3.26 mi) remaining unpaved. Maharlika Highway (N1/AH26) serves as the principal road connection between other provinces. Most of the province are served by secondary national roads, assigned route numbers of the 630 and 640 series. Almost all of the cities and municipalities are connected by national roads, except for Jovellar and Rapu-Rapu.
Albay is the region's principal trans-shipment point with its ports: Tabaco International Port, Legazpi National Port, Pio Duran Provincial Port, and the Pantao Regional Port.
Traveling to the province by air is served by the Legazpi Airport, the province's gateway from Manila and Cebu City in the Visayas. The larger Bicol International Airport is under construction in the municipality of Daraga, adjacent municipality of Legazpi City.
Albay is served by the mainline of the Philippine National Railways (PNR), and has commuter service between Naga in Camarines Sur. Trains to Manila (Tutuban), the Mayon Limited, is suspended from November 2012. Four stations serve Polangui, Ligao, Guinobatan, and Legaspi, respectively.