S is for Silves


Silves is a city with a glorious past.  You can’t fail to know this from the second you set eyes on the rust red hilltop castle, dominating the town and its surrounds.  Always a sucker for faded glory, it was one of the first places I visited in the Algarve.  On my recent return, I wanted to inspect the castle gardens development.

My first visit to Silves in April 2007- Michael's photo

My first visit to Silves in April 2007- Michael’s beautiful photo

From earliest times, the Arade River was the route to the Portuguese interior used by Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians, drawn by copper and iron, mined in the Western Algarve.  With its strategic hilltop position, Silves was bound to attract the Romans, but wealth and prosperity began with the Moorish invasion of 714AD.  By the 11th century, Silves was capital of the Algarve and a rival in importance to Lisbon.

Nothing lasts, and with the power struggles in the Muslim world, Silves was briefly restored to Portugal in 1189.  King Sancho 1 laid seige to the city in a brutal and gruesome episode, only to loose it to the Moors two years later.  By the 1240s the tide was turning again.  The river began to silt up, cutting off the trade route to North Africa.  In 1534 the episcopal se was transfered from Silves to Faro, and the power transformation was complete.

The Roman bridge over the River Arade

The Roman Bridge over the River Arade

The riverside, where there is ample parking, is a good starting point for a journey through Silves.  The narrow 13th century bridge is a little reminiscent of that at Tavira, which perhaps explains my fondness.  Wandering slowly upwards through the historic centre, the streets are still laid out as they were in Medieval times.  The 16th century pillory, or pelourinho, is a reminder of harsher times.

The pillory on Rua Dr. Francisco Vieira

The pillory on Rua Dr. Francisco Vieira

With its back to the ancient city walls, on Rua das Portas de Loule, you can find the Archaelogical Museum.  It contains an Islamic water cistern, or well, from the 11th century.  18metres deep, a spiral staircase now leads to the bottom.

Climbing steadily on Rua de Se, you come to the cathedral, a stern looking structure.  In red sandstone, like the castle, it sits on the site of a former mosque.  The grandeur and sobriety continue inside.  Opposite is the Igreja de Misericordia.

The cathedral, on Rua de Se

The cathedral, on Rua de Se

Manueline doorframe of the Igreja da Misericordia

Manueline doorframe of the Igreja da Misericordia

It is when you finally arrive at the castle that your imagination can no longer resist the temptation to recreate the past.  It is the finest military monument in Portugal to survive from the Islamic period.  Of the eleven towers, two are “albarra”- solid structures, joined to the walls by an arch that supports the walk around the castle walls.  They defend the double entrance gateway.  The doorway of the “traitor’s gate” still exists.

The castle once housed the Alcacova, the Moorish “Palace of Verandas” so described in poetry of that time.  A huge subterranean water tank is the main feature of the surviving remains, but excavation is ongoing.  An attempt has been made to recreate the feel of those Moorish times, but with a modern twist.  The rills and fountains beloved of the Moors today exist in 21st century red brick, and a restaurant has been installed, with modern seating.  I think it’s a brave effort.

The cork industry, dried fruits and tourism were Silves’ salvation.  In high season expect it to be a very warm place.  Whenever you visit, the Mercado, near the riverside, will be bustling.  You could purchase from its numerous stalls for a picnic.  But the delicious barbecue smells of the neighbouring restaurants often prove irresistible.

I could hardly wait to get out of bed this morning to write this piece, having arrived back yesterday evening.  Hope you like it.  Thanks, as always, to Julie Dawn Fox for the A-Z  personal challenge.



  1. The Moorish architecture and history are really a draw for me, Jo. I love the look of this town and I may have to add it to my itinerary! Thanks for sending me the link. I’m sorry, I’ve gotten so far behind in keeping up with blogs over the last couple of months…. 🙂

    1. That’s why I sent you the link, Cath. I had thought that we could take you there when you’re staying with us, combined with Alte, which was my first ever A-Z. We’ll see. 🙂

      1. Like I said, Cath, we’ll have SO much to talk about… and that’s before I find out everything about Barcelona. To say I’m jealous is a tiny understatement. Not long now. 🙂 🙂

    1. I love that they’ve tried to make something special, Amy. It’s not a total success but I think it will get better with time, and it is a stunning location. 🙂

    1. It is a lovely spot, Ad. Wish I was there now but I’m at home in rainy England, watching the stop-start French Open tennis, in hopes of seeing Rafa later. 🙂

  2. I’m another one who enjoyed my trip to Silves. Not that I remember much about it as it was so long ago, but I do remember it was nice so good to see your photos. I can’t even remember if we visited the castle or not!! It was summer though – late June/early July so it was pretty busy. Or maybe it was because it was market day. Good to hear you enjoyed your holiday though.

    1. Hi Rough! The one disappointment of the holiday was that I didn’t get down to Gib. I planned a day trip but the little travel agents in the town was closed. We don’t have an internet connection at the house and before I knew it our days were fully occupied and we were heading home. Next trip is in July so maybe too hot- we’ll see. 🙂

      1. It’s quite a hike from the Algarve, I was reading a discussion forum where someone was wanting to do the Gib day trip and most of us said it wasn’t worth it for the day, spend too much time cooped in a coach. Basically because you have to go across to Seville (Donana gets in the way of a direct route) and then down through Jerez, right down to Algeciras and then up to La Linea/Gib. Honestly I’d recommend an overnight stay if you did want to visit. We had friends stay for two weeks with us in Spain, and cleared off to Gib for three days. As they weren’t paying anything to us, they could afford to do that.

        July temps here are more moderate than Spain/Portugal but can be slightly more humid. If you decide to come let me know. A coffee or a glass of wine or a wander around would be good.

      2. Will do! I’ve been wanting to do Jerez and Cadiz for a while and not even got that far down yet. That’d be a 3 nighter. Gib was just a whim. Sounds bad but it’s never been somewhere I especially wanted to go, but I wouldn’t mind a look. (just to prove myself wrong) That’s why I thought the coach trip might be enough- allegedly you have 5 hours there. We’re over in July for Mick’s 60th and all he has planned is to lay on a beach (lazy slob!) so I daren’t plan much else. (yet!) 🙂 🙂

      3. Jerez and Cadiz are nice not that we spent much time there. The first time we went to Cadiz it was sooooo windy so we hot footed it back on a bus out to somewhere else :D. Gib does have an odd image. The Tourist Board doesn’t do a lot for it, and I don’t think they make enough of their heritage and history. Most people jump into one of the local rip-off taxis, get whizzed around the Rock, pose with the monkeys, and then buy cheap fags, perfume and spirits. There is more to it than that!

      4. Not for a day. We first visited Gib (at the same time we went to Silves!) from Algeciras so we got a full day. From memory public transport from La Linea is invariably 3 hrs to anyway. May be faster buses from Algeciras, ie a directo, but it wd still be a day of buses and little sightseeing. Cadiz is quite big. Lots of decent churches to see and some good views because of its location.

        Another option would be stay at Jerez and hire a car to go to GIb, using the A381 which is a good road, say a couple of hours to La Linea, park outside the frontier and walk in to avoid the queues.

        But five hrs on the coach tour isn’t bad. I could knock you an itinerary together if you decide to do it 😀

      5. Thank you! 🙂 I was proposing the whole Jerez/Cadiz/Gib expedition as a drive. We normally car hire in the Algarve anyway. But I don’t drive, so it relies on the willingness of the husband- so you see why I can’t propose it as his birthday jaunt! The coach trip was a one-off inspiration of mine. (I think!) 🙂

      6. It would be an ok drive but not in a day.

        We did Conil de la Frontera to Seville to Olhao in a day. Well we were there before lunchtime actually, driving a Series III Land Rover, towing a trailer and stopped off for a café and at that tiny place on the coast you have posted some piccies of. So Jerez and back would be doable. Cadiz, Jerez, and Gib would be great if you like driving all day. Neither of us would want that for our birthdays!

        Anyway, let me know if you do need any more info or have any questions. Always happy to provide info.

      7. Will be a minibreak within an Algarve trip- 3/4 days. Sorry for not making myself clear and much thanks for the assistance. Off to play in the rain! 🙂

  3. Your photos are so lovely, and I can feel the warmth and charm of the Silves. I love a good walking tour. It’s the only way to sense what a place is really like. I can see why you are so at home in such an interesting place! 🙂

    1. I did just a bit too much walking in the Algarve, and came home with a limp, but that’s a whole other story, and reminds me that I should be doing my Six word Saturday right now. More memories, I expect. Thank you. 🙂

    1. There was a cold wind blowing on the coast that day and it was perfect inland at Silves. Now i’m remembering what a cold wind is really like as bins and rubbish hurtle down my front street this morning, Meredith. It’s blowing a hooligan in Britain. We don’t need pillories here- we’ve got the weather! 🙂
      Packed, ready, gone yet? I’ll pop over and see. Thank you.

    1. Thanks a lot, Mara. I would love to do that. We were going up Monchique on the same day, so time didn’t really allow. Next time I’ll head that way. I’ve always wanted to do the boat trip up from Portimao too, but never see any details about it. Any ideas?

      1. The schedules of the boat trips depend on the tides but at high tide I often see the boat near the Mercado. According to the Camara’s website, for info on this call “Sector de Turismo da Câmara Municipal de Silves,on 282 440 800 (Exensiont.: 375 or 442)..

      2. Brilliant! Thanks for this. I did have a number somewhere but it got lost in the loads of stuff I accumulate on my wanderings. Thanks again, Mara. 🙂

  4. Welcome back Jo 🙂
    This post reminds me of the crusader castles of the middle East somehow. The arched door is very distinctive though. Great photos! Your favourite is mine too 🙂

    1. Thanks, Julie. I’m not too sure about the way they’re going with the castle gardens, but at least they’re trying something different. (water in the rills and fountains would have been good, but maybe we were too early)

      1. I did think that- the weather hadn’t quite got there! Not so good up your way either? Ahh, who needs weather to enjoy themselves… 🙂

      2. It’s lovely here today – sunny but not too hot. We had lunch in the garden for the fist time in ages. makes a very pleasant change from the cold, rainy weather we’ve had recently.

  5. Welcome back Jo. I recognised the castle straight way and remembered that the lady selling the entry tickets would not give us any senior citizen concession because apart from the wrinkles, we had no official proof of age. So we just took it as a compliment! I also remember driving through those extremely narrow streets in Silves, hardly room for a car. It is a lovely area to be sure. 🙂

    1. Was that your one sunny day, David? We had a very sunny natured young man behind the till, and I don’t think I remembered to ask about senior citizens (I had my bus pass in my purse). Not everywhere does it in Portugal anyway, and I often forget. Our contribution to the economy. 🙂 They’re struggling a lot at the minute.

      1. Yes Jo, that was our only sunny day. The entrance fee wasn’t all that much and I was half joking when I asked for the concession. Like you say, it’s a boost to their economy. 🙂

  6. A beautiful gallery and interesting history 🙂 I love your 13th century bridge, Jo … and you caught some real knockers too 🙂

  7. No wonder this place has a fascination for you.Love the Moorish architecture and the history.Having been there before, I imagine you are always in a state of comparison.

  8. Absolutely stunning photo’s as usual Jo and what a beautiful place that is! Loved the archways and that doorframe is divine! Thanks for sharing hon. 🙂 *big hugs*

      1. Oh, I would indeed. A bit sore this week because of the cold but I am not complaining hon. How are things on your side? *hugs*

      2. Got a limp from a bit too adventurous a walk in the wrong shoes in the Algarve, but still managed the sand dunes with our Nordic walking group this morning. Bemused by the weather. Hailstones and sunshine! 🙂

  9. What a wonderful place – so pretty. Would love to sit on that little square with the fountain. Beautiful photo … know very little about Portugal – have only been to Lisbon and Estoril. Do you still have your place down there ????

  10. Oh how wonderful. I love wandering through places where I feel like I’m walking through history. that’s one of my favorite parts about living in Europe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s