Silves is a picturesque city filled with orange and lemon trees, which is a favourite with those looking for a relaxed holiday, good food and culture.
The hilly city of Silves, the former capital of the Algarve, is located on the banks of the Arade River. This once navigable waterway was once the main route for transport and commercial trade to the interior region. Now it’s a calm and glistening vein that runs through this picturesque city, appreciated more for its looks.
HistoryThe region has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic Era and has a storied history. Silves was once the Moorish capital (“Xelb”) of the region, the traces of which can still be seen in the city’s landmarks. When the Moors invaded Iberia, Silves was given the Arabic name of Shilb, and became part of the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba.
In 1156, after the Almoravid conquest, the town became Almohad. A few years later, King Sancho I of Portugal conquered the town, but soon lost it again to the Almoravid. Under the Almoravid’s rule it prospered so much that it was called the Baghdad of the West, which was a supremely powerful city in the past. Paio Peres Correia, Grand Master of the Order of Santiago in 1242 captured the town from the last Muslim king and Silves declined in significance thereafter.
LandmarksAlmedina was the gate to a residential area built in the 12th or 13th century within the defensive ramparts, which gave access to the city. The Almedina Gate is only one of four original gates that still remains, and is also known as the City Gate.
The Englishman’s Factory or Cork Museum is a former cork factory, known locally as Fábrica does Inglés. It tells the history of the regional cork industry, with displays of the machines and tools used for creating cork, amongst other items.
Silves Castle dates back to the 8th Century and, having been restored in the 1940’s, is one of the best-preserved castles in the Algarve. Standing on the top of a hill, made from red sandstone (grés de Silves), it provides stunning views overlooking the region. The castle has eleven towers, four of which have picturesque gothic doorways; a perfect photo opportunity, so don’t forget your camera.
Cathedral of Silves (Sé of Silves) sits adjacent to the castle and is one of the Algarve’s few remaining gothic monuments. Construction started during the 13th Century on the remains of a mosque. It suffered damage during an earthquake in 1352, but in the 1440’s, King Afonso V provided funding for its reconstruction. It was an epic task that wasn’t completed until much later in the early 16th Century. Sadly, another earthquake in 1755 again destroyed part of the cathedral, which has yet to be restored.
The Municipal Archaeological Museum displays plenty of historical treasures from archaeological digs conducted at the castle and the surrounding area, and includes artefacts from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Roman occupation periods. Perfect for any history buff.
Food, Drink and ShoppingThere’s a great selection of cafés and restaurants on the main street opposite the river, as well as in the area around the Cathedral and Castle. Explore the local souvenir shops, which are well known for selling pottery and ceramic gifts, as well as clothing accessories and gifts made from cork. There’s also a local market near the Roman Bridge selling tasty fresh produce.
Why not take a boat trip from Portimão to Silves along the Rio Arade, a perfect way to explore this beautiful historic town in the Algarve.