Places to visit in the Algarve, Portugal
Located 18 kilometres north-east of Portimao in the central Algarve, Silves is a magnificent hill town steeped in the history of the Algarve.
Established as a base for Phoenician traders in the 1st millennium BC, this riverside colony expanded into the Roman town of Silbis and then, from the 8th century, the Moorish city of Xelb. During this period of Moorish inhabitation, Xelb (Silves) became the capital of the kingdom of Al-Gharb (Algarve) and by the 12th century, it had a port, shipyards and a thriving trade with African and Mediterranean ports. Dominated by its' castle, Silves was known to be a city of art, poetry, craftsman and trade. In 1189, however, the Moors were driven out of the city by Dom Sancho 1 and the crusaders, following a three month siege of the castle. Two years later the Moors returned once more and it was not for nearly another six decades that Silves was finally retaken and secured by the Christians.
Due to the earthquake of 1755, little remains of the Arabic architecture. However, there is much to see in this historical town. Built in the distinctive red sandstone of the area, the castle still remains substantially intact despite bearing the brunt of the 12th century battles between the Moors and Christians. It was restored to its' present form in 1835 and symbolises the splendour of Moorish Silves. Take a stroll along the rampart walk and enjoy the magnificent views over the town towards the almond and citrus groves. Within the walls is the great vaulted water cistern used by the Moors during the 1189 siege and still serving the town today. The most rowdy that the castle becomes these days is during the annual beer festival held in July.
From the castle, the narrow cobbled streets of the old “almedina” descend to the Cathedral or Se. Built on the site of the Moorish Mosque, the cathedral is one the few in the Algarve to retain its' medieval feel. The doorway, rose pink granite columns, vaults and gargoyles, all add to the gothic feel, although much of the original gothic architecture has been replaced in successive re-buildings.
Below the cathedral, the Musea Municipal de Arqueologia charts the history of Silves from prehistoric to present times. Its collections include archaeological finds from the city and Moorish ceramics. From the top floor, access to a restored section of the city wall is possible where you can look out over the old Moorish quarter.
A short stroll from the museum is the Praca do Municipo - the main square with its town hall, cafes and Pillory. The Pillory, a symbol of municipal power, was rebuilt from 16th century remains and although found in other towns in Portugal, it is the only such one in the Algarve. Shop lined streets lead from here to the market, where many varied products can be bought from the local farmers and traders - try the figs and almonds. Pavement cafes, where you can enjoy a drink and watch the world go by, line the embankments of the River Arade and a cork factory near the river has been transformed into a leisure complex with restaurants, music and water show. There is also a cork museum celebrating one of Portugal's most famous exports.
Located on the north-east road out of the town is the Cruz de Portugal - the Cross of Portugal. A 16th century structure, these crosses were erected at points along the medieval pilgrim routes. This is a rare surviving example and said to be one of the most beautiful crosses in Portugal.
Would you like more suggestions? Take a look at our Things to do in the Algarve and Places to go in the Algarve sections for loads of ideas of what to do and where to go
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