SILVES AND ITS ORIGINS
If you are coming from Lisbon, Silves is situated at the entrance of Barlavento in a hilly region, between the ridges of Caldeirao and Monchique.
In the middle of Barrocal, between hills and the Ocean, the medieval town is bathed, along its lower edge, by the Rio Arade, which rises to the southwest of the hills known as the Serra of the Malhao, and flows into the Atlantic beyond Portimao.
The Rio Arade flows gently and is navigable from Silves to Portimao (it’s worth taking a boat trip from Portimao to Silves).
The entrance to the ancient Silves town, which lies on top of a hill, is announced from far by the imposing line of the castle walls made of the typically red coloured stones that defines the named ‘Pedra de Silves’ ( ‘Silves sand-stone’).
The Castle and the town form a monumental fortress that was built to prevent from Arabic assaults.
The origins of Silves are hard to determine because it’s not simple to come up to a single reliable source: everything leads us to believe that Silves was built about the year 1000 B.C. before the arrival of the Carthaginians in the Algarve, when an increasing number of merchants settled here for purchasing metals like copper and selling products of craftsmanship.
SILVES CASTLE AND ARCHAELOGICAL FEATURES
Silves Castle is the nicest castle in the Algarve and one of the most important in Portugal. Now that it has been restored, it is in excellent conditions and can be admired by Portuguese and foreigners. Its origins lie in a very remote time and it’s reasonable that it already existed when the Romans arrived, while the Arabs embelished it and made it stronger.
Bakr ben Yahya, Muladi Prince of Santa Maria of the Algarve, chose it as his place of residence and the banu Muzain princes later settled there; many poems celebrate the beauty and the richness of Silves Castle.
In 1189 the Castle and the whole town fell into the hands of King Sancho I of Portugal, after hard fighting joined by Portuguese and Crusaders, but after two years Silves was reconquered by the troops of Ya’qub, the Almhad Caliph. By 1246 the town was definitively in the hands of Portuguese Kingdom. In the 1930s and 40s, they carried out a very important restoration work on the Castle.
Until May 1947, the Castle has been used as a prison (the towers had been adapted for this purpose), then it was definitely opened to public audience. Besides its value as an historical building, it also diplays a magnific view of the lovely eastern part of the town and it’s in great conditions. Nowadays the Castle has large stage for shows on the back and has large areas laid out as a garden.
SILVES FORMER CATHEDRAL
Silves Cathedral is a beautiful old building started in the Gothic style and concluded in the Baroque. It is classified as a national monument in 1922. It is situated in at the highest point in the town, on the right-hand side for anyone walking up to the Castle. Its huge belfry, white and baroque, can be seen from far coming from Armaçao de Pera or Silves railway station. Down through the centuries, Silves cathedral must have seriously suffered from earthquakes; in the 14 th century they were strongly felt in the Algarve and the caused serious damages to the Cathedral. As we can see, the conclusion of the works was carried out with very poor materials and without respecting the beautiful initial Gothic plan. On the southern side, the so-called ‘Porta do Sol’ ( Sun’s Door, dating 1781) may have been opened at that time to make use of the Capel of Gramachos.
CHURCH OF THE MISERICORDIA
This Church lies opposite the western façadeof the Cathedral. It is a 16th century church conceived in the Manueline style of which traces can still be seen in the side door, opposite the Main Door of the Cathedral.
Inside there is a Renaissance altar-piece with seven paintings ( dating 17th century) depicting the seven acts of mercy and, above them, another Christ on the Cross.
The ALMEDINA WALLS and the TURRET of the TOWN GATES
In the past Silves was protected by three series of fortification: the Castle, the Almendina Walls and the Arrabalde (Outskirt) Walls, but now only the the two first still exist.
The Almendina Walls are still almost intact, only cut here and there because of the negligence and incompetence of some councils in the past century, aiming to approach fake progress which is enemy of tradition and beauty; now they need some re-storing. The Almedina Walls start at the Torre do Segredo ( or Secret Tower) of the Castle and surround the whole northern part of the town.The overlooking view from that point are only valleys and fileds.
Some of the towers that characterize this section of the walls are authentically Arab-made, the materials employed being beaten earth and mortar or daub and wattle as it’s common in Morocco.
CRUZ DE PORTUGAL
The small monument known as the Cruz de Portugal ( Cross of Portugal) is a beautiful stone cross dating a period that is difficult to determine and lying to the eastern part of the town, on the road to Enxerim.
The style appears to be a flamboyant Gothic, but some think that, on the basis of the motifs and symbols, the style is Manueline. According to a certain tradition, the Cruz marked the center of the town. In recent times, it was given a roff for its protection.
FLORA AND FAUNA OF SILVES SURROUNDINGS
On the dry farming farming lands you will find the olive, fig, almond and carrob trees growing as wild, while on the well irrigated lands the orange, tangerine, lime and other citrus trees magnificently grow displaying the best produce of the Algarve
Wheat, barley, oats and maize as well as a wide variety of vegetable is cultivated on plots. At the farm called Quinta de Matamouros, an interesting farm about one km form Silves, exotic plantation spread, proper of Mediterranean and tropical climates as shown by the huge presence of pomegranate-trees and tall palm trees too.
The damp climate favours the development of ferns, moss, weeping-willows and willows. In contrast, in the hills to the north, which have been haevily forested in recent times, the most spread flora are heather, thistles and rosemary.Concerning the fauna, goats and sheep, pigs and hens are raised on the farms; animals for traction like horses, mules, oxes and donkeys tend to disappear nowadays because of the improvements in farming.Half a century ag, there were still deer and and wild boars in the Serra of Silves that now have moved to Lower Alentejo because of the hunting parties.
You can easily find bathrachians, frogs and toads as well as the funny geckos and other lizards.Lots of pigeons and rabbits are to be find, both wild and domesticated. Unfortunately, wolves and foxes are gradually disappearing.
Among the shellfish, mussels are quite abundant so that the gathering of the mussles gave name to the village of Mexilhoeira Pequena, between Estombar and Ferragudo on the left bank of the Arade river.
Monchique is a protected natural reserve with breathtaking views over the Algarve coast. Monchique is considered one of the most charming areas of the Algarve, unique and different from the coastal tourism although only a stepping-stone away. Monchique Mountains feature gorgeous coastal views of the Algarve region and are a Protected Natural Reserve. Exceptional natural conditions coupled with a mild climate make them the perfect place for a wide variety of plants and animals and that is why they are known as “The Garden of the Algarve”
LEGENDS OF SILVES
Legend of the Almond-trees
A nordic princess was deeply sad because she missed the snowy landscape of its native land and to please her, a southern king is said to have covered hills and fields with almond-trees whosw white blossoms reminded her of snow
Legend of the Enchanted Moorish Girl
After the Christian reconquest, the people of Silves developed a legend that was put down on paper in the last century. They say that at midnight on St. John’s eve, a charming Moorish girl appeared in the large cistern of Silves Castel, sailing over the water on a silver boat with golden oars and singing song of her land. She is a princess waiting for the arrival of her prince who will pronounce the magic words to break the spell.
About 60 years ago, the economic life of Silves was largely based on the cork industry.In the last half of 19th century the cork industry ( Indùstria da Cortica) developed in Silves, that became an important trade and industrial center. In 1881 one of the two main cork firm of the whole country, the ‘Vilarinho&Sobrinho) was established in Silves, employing more than 500 workers. In the last few decades, however, this industry has experienced a crisis and they moved to agriculture, which has befited largley from water of the Rio Arade, becoming a large- scale producer of fruits. Despite this, the cork handcrafts are still one of the main produts of Silves region that still displays all the beauty of an ancestral art.
For more infos, click on: www.rotadacortica.pt
After building the Barragem of Arade (Arade dam) and many important infastructures to enable easier irrigation, Silves has become the greatest national producer of citrus fruits: Silves is known to be the Capital of orange fruits! We must consider that 70% of the whole national citrus production is based here. That is not surprising: the extremely favourable microclimate with sun shining most of the year round, the quality of the soil and the microelements of the water used to irrigate ( from Rio Arade) is a mix of crucial factors that make the orange fruits of Silves display excellent organolectical characteristics and impressive. Silves’ orange fruits are known to be one of the best quality fruits ( even the best!) among those coming from all over the world. And it’s the richest in Vitamin C! The oranges here are also widely used in the local pastry and it’s also the best fresh drink you can have during the hottest sunny days in summer.
The Medronho ( Arbutus unedo) is another fruit tree very named and abundant in the Silves region, within the most dry valleys.The fruit of ‘Medronho’ is largely used in the local gastronomy to produce jam, but most named of all, the local liqueur.
The process to get this spirit is quite complex and requires many steps, from picking the fruits, the fermentation and distillation. In the past, the families of the Serra had all their small hand-made production for family consumption; nowadays, there are some producers that are keen on preserving the memory of this ancestral art.
Silves is also very appreciated for wine production and therefore is investing a lot of resources on Enoturismo. The Silves wine houses are leading the challenge within regional market, but they are able to face the international challenge with the label ‘Vinos de Silves’ (Silves Wines) and are getting more and more dinamic and able to promote themeselves through many events like the incoming 6th Portuguese Wine show, where 70 producers from around the country will presents their specialties. For more infos, click here: www.confrariabacchiusalbufeira.com
Silves regional cuisine gathers many enthusiastic lovers among foreigners, thanks to the genuine and authentic food that they can taste in the local restaurants, where you can find both meat and fresh fish displayed in many many amazing recipes very respectful for the tradition. If you happen to visit Silves surroundings, strongly advised are the following dishes:
From the land:
- Papas de milho
- ‘Galinha de Cabidela com Grao
- ‘Ervilhas con ovos e chouriço’
From the sea
- ‘Carapaus alimados’
- ‘Cataplana de peixe’
- ‘Lulas recheadas’
From inland ( ‘Serra’)
Dry fruits like figue, almond and carrob are king in the local pastry. Most appreciated are: Don Rodrigo sweet, the almond cake, the figue cake, the ‘Morgado de Silves’ and many others that you can taste at the ‘Dry Fruits Festival of Alcantarilha’ every year in September.
SILVES MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL ( Silves Medieval Fair, the first two weeks of August every year)
The ‘Feira Medieval de Silves’ takes place every year in town and celebrates its 11th edition with big success.
The event aims to recreate the magical atmosphere of Medieval Silves, when this borough used to be the antique capital of the Algarve and lived a century of glorious greatness that the Castle and the imponent monuments still witness. It was a vivid town with an intense cultural life, where many political and commercial interests aroused. During the fair, day and night, the streets are crowded and the visitors can take the chance to buy the typical Portuguese handcrafts from local merchants selling their products under fabric tents made for this purpose, or taste the traditional food in the ‘tabernas’ and enjoy the animation like ‘medieval tournaments’ or the workshops of ‘ancient arts’ managed by the locals all wearing traditional costumes.