Silves - History
This city was once the capital of the whole district and was still referred to in the beginning of the 19th Century as the “Kingdom of the Algarve”. So much history is attached to Silves and its surrounding area that only a book would do it justice! Standing proudly on a hill Silves can be traced back to existing some 1.000 BC. Evidence shows that it was already a place of note in Roman times but it really became an important place during its occupation in the early 11th Century by the Moors. Giving it the name of Xelb, they constructed lavish palaces and created a cultural centre of learning for the whole Iberian Peninsular. Although it was important as a town it still fell under the mantle and control of Cordoba in Spain.
They imported lions and other wild animals that are reputed to have roamed freely through exotic gardens in palaces under its Seville based powerful ruler Al-Mutamid. Born in Beja in 1040, he became at the tender age of thirteen the ruler of Silves until later when he moved to Spain. It is recorded that in 1189 there were over 15.000 inhabitants when the Knights of Santiago sacked the city with the assistance of the Anglo-Norman Crusaders. Two years later it was retaken by the Caliph Ben Yussef. It was only in 1242 that it was again under the control of the Portuguese Kings. From 1250 until 1267 and with the encouragement of Pope Innocent IV, the Algarve became a battle ground for its ownership between the Portuguese King Afonso III and the King of Castile. The matter was settled in the favour of the Portuguese by the Treaty of Badajoz.
Silves continued in importance as a main town of the Algarve until its commerce began a slow decline in the 15th Century due the silting-up of the Rio Arade that had given the town good access to the sea. (The authorities are at present involved in re-establishing this important link by dredging the river). In 1544 the Bishop moved his residence to Faro. A specialty of the town are the “Morgados” cakes made with pumpkin.
Silves - Description
Most of the town and nearly all its ancient buildings were destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. The impressive remains of the castle dates back to Moors and there is a impressive underground water reservoirs that are still used by the city today. The biggest has the romantic name of “ Cistern of the Enchanted Moorish Girl” and was said to be a principal factor in the fall of the town during its siege. The Museu Arqueológico has been constructed above the cistern and here a visitor will find exhibits of locally found objects included items from the Stone Age. As a reminder of the Romans occupation is the Ponte Romana, a fine strong bridge over the Rio Arade below the city walls and having been rebuilt from the original in the 15th Century. The city’s earlier 13th Century Cathedral was built on the site of a Mosque and has suffered considerable alteration over the centuries. To the southwest side of the town is a modern statue celebrating the siege of 1189 in an appropriately named square, Largo dos Mártires, where it is suggested that the remains of the defending Moors were buried. Just to the northeast of the city is a fascinating 16th Century granite cross that is located beside the road to the north. The countryside around Silves was once the biggest orange growing area in Portugal and the local quality of this fruit still enjoys fame over other areas in Portugal and neighbouring Spain. There has been a popular recent decision to site a new University in Silves to recreate its links with its past.
Silves - Nearby Locations
Another administrative and rural town named Lagoa is only 8 Kms. to the south of Silves. To the southeast is the town of Alcantarilha whose main claim to fame is a chapel lined with hundreds of bones belonging to its earlier inhabitants. Further to the south of Alcantarilha is the beach town of Armação de Pera with its long beautiful sandy beach. Lying to the north of the fertile valleys of Silves is an area of attractive forest covered hills that eventually lead up to the mountains of Monchique. The large national Dams of Arade and Foz are well worth visiting for the beauty of their natural setting see map of Silves and surrounding area.
If you are planning a holiday with a difference in the Algarve then Silves could be for you . The holiday villa rental scene is not as vibrant as it is in or near the resorts, but rentals will be less expensive as most people will opt for the "sandy beach" option.
Silves is an enchanting town littered with orange and lemon trees, sitting on the banks of the Arade River ("Rio Arade"). There is history everywhere you look in Silves, to remind you of it’s affluent and bold past as a Moorish capital (“Xelb”).The importance of Silves lay in the fact that it was the main access to the inland areas of the Algarve because of its river location, although the river is now too silted up for large vessels to use.
The most prominent monument is Castelo de Silves, which is now the best preserved castle in the Algarve. The castle and the Cathedral beside it are the first buildings you see as you approach Silves, as they sit on the hilltop above the town.
The castle offers spectacular views from the battlements. It has eleven towers, two of which are barbicans, and thick walls that enclose an area of 12,000m². Four of the towers, modified at the time of reconstruction work in 14/15th centuries have gothic doorways.
The castle once sheltered the old Moorish 'alcáçova' which was the residence of the lord of the city. Not much remains of the defensive walls and towers which protected Silves, but one of the four gates remains and is the 'Torreão da Porta da Cidade' (The turret of the City Gate). Inside the tower are two rooms and annexes which now house the Municipal Library.
Sé de Silves (Cathedral of Silves) one of the Algarve’s few remaining gothic monuments with ancient tombs, sits alongside the castle and a network of narrow, cobbled streets take you down into the town.
Another impressive sight is the 'Cruz de Portugal' (the Cross of Portugal), a 3m tall limestone cross dating from the 15th or 16th century, just to the right of the roundabout that leads to the castle at the eastern end of the river front. There is also a regional history museum Musueu Municipal de Arquelógia (Municipal Archaeological Museum).
Silves has a very pretty central square, Praça do Municipio, with palms and flowers, beautiful gardens, and a newly paved river front which leads you to the swimming pool and beyond. If you would like to improve your fitness a little there is an exercise area near the pool with 'Life Trail Wellness Stations' - an outdoor 'play area' for adults. What a great idea, especially in the fabulous climate of the Algarve.
The municipal market building is on the main street opposite the river, and along this same street are numerous cafés with outside seating offering lovely river views. Within the town, there are cobbled streets, cafés and shops, some beautiful buildings from the times when Silves was a rich merchants town and remnants of the old walls, including the tower which now houses the municipal library.
Silves is the perfect place to visit - very relaxed with history in abundance! Although the castle sits on the hill, it is still right in the heart of Silves, with the Cathedral right next door and cafés and houses around and in between.
There are some boat trips from Portimão to Silves along the Rio Arade, which give a short time (just over an hour) in Silves before returning whilst the tide is still high enough for the boats to make the return journey.
Silves is an ideal place for that truly relaxed holiday - a good selection of places to wine and dine, interesting historic places to visit and in the beautiful inland Algarve where you can walk and explore to your heart's content. Like so many places in the Algarve, Silves has made improvements to it's road layout and general presentation of the town, so that it remains that wonderfully picturesque Algarve town but allows the important areas to look their best! See map of Silves and surrounds for location.
Silves - Algarve - Portugal
For "The Real Portugal" Holiday
Information courtesy of general internet research and algarveuncovered.com, portugal-info.net, tripadvisor.com, algarve-guides.com and many more sources
Villa Rentals in Silves and holiday rentals in the Algarve Portugal in general are big business so you should expect to be treated with professionalism and with courtesy.