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Silves

Map of Silves and surroundings, with main points of interest, useful locations and residential areas. Distances to the main locations in the south of Portugal

Map of Silves and surroundings, with main points of interest, useful locations and residential areas. Distances to the main locations in the south of Portugal

… former capital of the Algarve, south of Portugal

Silves City and Its Imposing Castle

Silves City and Its Imposing Castle
Silves, one of Portugal’s oldest cities, is nestled in the western Algarve’s interior. With a population of around 11,500 in the city and 37,000 in the entire council, it carries a rich historical legacy.

The prime attraction, the Silves Castle, crowns the city. Recognized as Portugal’s finest example of Islamic military architecture, it bears testament to a past that reaches back to Paleolithic times. The presence of an archaeological station and numerous Neolithic finds further underscore the region’s historic significance.

Silves Ancient Origins

Silves, with origins dating back to Pre-History, likely originated from a Phoenician trading post. The city had a significant Muslim presence between the 8th and 13th centuries, becoming a notable cultural hub, hosting renowned poets like Ibn Caci and Al-Mutamid. During this period, the city was comparable in prestige to metropolises like Lisbon and Seville. Highlights from the Arab period include monuments like the Castle and the current Cathedral. In 1189, D. Sancho I, with the aid of the Crusaders, captured Silves. However, it was only between 1242 and 1246 that D. Paio Peres Correia definitively reclaimed Silves. In 1267, Silves was elevated to the capital of the Algarve under the reign of D. Afonso III. In the 15th century, the city prospered due to its port and participation in maritime explorations, such as the discovery of the Azores. However, subsequent centuries saw Silves’ decline, especially after the 1755 Earthquake. A resurgence occurred in the 19th century with the cork industry. In recent times, Silves stands out for its agriculture, production of oranges and wines, and tourism, remaining a favored destination for its rich history and culture.

Entrance of Silves Castle with Statue of King D. Sancho I

Entrance of Silves Castle with Statue of King D. Sancho I
The entrance of the renowned Silves Castle is marked by a compelling statue of King D. Sancho I. This historic landmark offers a glimpse into the city’s rich past.

As you walk through the castle’s entrance, the majestic figure of King D. Sancho I is a stark reminder of Portugal’s robust royal history and Silves’ significant role in it.

Silves, A Castle-Crowned City by the River

Silves, A Castle-Crowned City by the River
Silves is a unique city, crowned by an ancient castle bordered by the river. The city’s layout is thoughtfully designed, integrating extensive pedestrian paths along the serene river.

The harmonious blend of history and natural beauty creates an enchanting setting that sets Silves apart, as you stroll through the city with the sight of the castle perched on the hill, coupled with the tranquility of the river.

The Historic Bridge of Silves Over the Arade River

The Historic Bridge of Silves Over the Arade River
The bridge of Silves, spanning the Arade River, carries with it centuries of history and debate.

The structure we see today began construction in the 15th century and was completed in 1716. Historians speculate that a Roman bridge might have existed here, given Silves’ location at a junction of Roman roads and due to the nearby discovery of opus signinum, a building material used in ancient Rome. However, the belief that a medieval bridge was present is challenged by King Sancho I’s omission of any bridge when he captured the city in 1149.

Silves Buildings Adapting to Street Slopes

Silves Buildings Adapting to Street Slopes
Nestled between the Arade River and the hilltop castle, the city of Silves presents an interesting topographical layout. The streets near the river are flat, lined with extensive promenades and gardens.

However, as you navigate towards the town centre and further to the castle, the streets become steep. These hilly paths have been adapted with stairs and traditional stone sidewalks, adding to the town’s unique character and charm.

Historic Streets of Silves

Historic Streets of Silves
Though the municipality of Silves has approximately 37000 inhabitants, the town itself hosts a modest population of around 11500. Its streets bear testament to the different cultures that have graced its soils over the millennia.

Characteristics of various periods and peoples shine through – the eminent castle, the stone-paved streets, antiquated buildings, the Roman bridge traversing the Arade River, and Muslim squares. These elements collectively narrate the rich history of the city. During Muslim rule, Silves was known as Xelb, Xilb, or al-Shilb, adding another layer to its fascinating past.

Cathedral of Silves

Gothic Cathedral of Silves

Gothic Cathedral of Silves
Standing as an architectural marvel, the old cathedral of Silves, adorned in a stunning Gothic style, graces the cityscape.

This imposing structure, which was constructed between the 15th and 18th century, speaks volumes about the artistic creativity and craftsmanship of those times. Its majesty is a testament to Silves’ rich cultural and historical heritage.

Manueline Window at Igreja da Misericórdia

Manueline Window at Igreja da Misericórdia
A Manueline style window in the wall of Igreja da Misericórdia, a 16th-century construction located in the heart of Silves. This architectural gem is classified as a Public Interest Property and forms part of the protected areas that include the Castle, the Cathedral and the Islamic Cistern of Rua do Castelo.

Al_mutamid square

Al-Mutamid Square in Silves

Al-Mutamid Square in Silves
Named after Al-Mutamid, one of the most influential poets of Al-Andalus, this square showcases various elements of Arab culture.

One of the highlights is the representation of excerpts from the renowned poem “The Evocation Silves,” written by Al-Mutamid and Ibn Ammar, an embodiment of the profound historical and cultural richness of the area.

Al-Mutamid Square's Reflecting Pool and Sculpture

Al-Mutamid Square’s Reflecting Pool and Sculpture
The Al-Mutamid Square is renowned for its reflecting pool adorned with Arabic inscriptions, and a group of seven stone sculptures.

This space pays homage to Al-Mu’tamid Muhammad ibn Abbad Ibn Ismail al-Lakhmi (1040–1095), a prominent figure in Al-Andalus history known for his contributions to the sciences, poetry, and governance. The sculptures depict scenes of daily life in Xelb during Al Mouhatamid Ibn Abbad’s time, with five figures shown performing typical tasks related to farming and two seated figures observing the others.

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