When the Moors ruled the Algarve for almost 500 years, Silves was the capital of the Algarve. Silves is in the northern part of the Algarve. It is inland, so no beaches here! The 1755 earthquake destroyed most of the buildings, and supposedly only 20 houses were left standing. But, no matter, the vistas from the Castle, are stunning.
The door to the Silves Castle is “guarded” by a statue of King Sancho I, who the second king of Portugal. He was the son of Afonso Henriques I; he succeeded his father to the throne in 1185. He and his Knights of Santiago wrestled the city away from the Moors in 1189, only to have it recaptured by the Moors in 1191. It was finally taken in the 13th century, during the reign of King Afonso III, when the Moors were driven from the Iberian peninsula.
The Silves Castle is red, or at least reddish. It was built with red sand stone from the area and from a distance, it almost glows in the sun. The stairs can be slightly uneven, there are few or no railings on the stairs, which can be pretty steep, so you need to pay attention. This is true for most of the castles we experienced. And, they really are quite an “experience”, which you want to have.
But, there are some fantastic vistas from the parapets and walkways. You can see mountains, as well as orange groves. This is an orange producing region, a fruit introduced by the Moors. There are grapes, as well, that produce the fabulous wines you will find all over Portugal.
The excavated remnants of an 11th century Moorish palace lie within the walls. There is a cistern (that’s the pinkish structure near the upper right), that now houses some interesting pieces of sculpture, rather than the water stores for the citizens.
The young man in the picture, certainly looks the part of a young Moorish prince, doesn’t he? He and his cohort untethered one of the Harris’s hawks and “passed” it back and forth to each other. The bird would fly over your head, so close that you could feel the draft from it’s wings, as it passed over your head. He was a charming young man and absolutely wonderful with a young boy who was asking him about it. He also, clearly loves these birds. It was a very cool experience.
It was time to wander over to the Archaeological Museum (Museu Municipal de Arqueologia) has many artifacts from the region, some of which were found at the Castle. The centerpiece of the museum is a water reservoir, which is in an excellent state of preservation. It dates back to the 12th or 13th centuries. It is made from the Silves sandstone, and is considered to be an example unique to Portugal. It features a helix staircase with three windows, ensuring easier access to the water. These things are all features that are rare in Arab architecture. We left the Museu and wandered over to the Sé de Silves (Cathedral of Silves).
Many of the churches will appear to be closed, but there will be an open door on the side, which fortunately was the case here. This 13th century Cathedral is Gothic, Medieval and Baroque in design. It has a ceiling that truly does seem to soar to the heavens and lovely religious music, playing quietly in the background.
King John II died unexpectedly in 1495; he was buried in the main chapel until he was exhumed in 1499 and re-buried in the Monastery of Batalha. His tomb slab, with it’s Gothic inscription, still rests in the floor of the main chapel, alongside many other 15th and 16th century tomb slabs of local luminaries.
And, just across the street is the Santa Misericórdia Church. Don’t you just love the door, sort of in the middle of the wall? That first step must have been a killer. It is currently a gallery that we were told is rarely open…oh, well.
As we left, we drove by the Ponte Velha Romana (Old Roman bridge) which is over the Rio Arade, which was apparently built in the 15th century. Therefore, I don’t actually think it must have been built by the Romans. A quandary, no?
But, before leaving, I need to mention the White Storks. There were several wonderful nests. Now, off we go, back to Albufeira. I’ll sleep well tonight.