Once the splendid capital of the Islamic province of al-Gharb, Silves today is a pleasant little town that charms visitors with its whitewashed houses, petite craft shops and cobbled streets. But what really grabs the attention is the imposing medieval castle that dominates Silves’ skyline since the 8th century.
Named al-Shilb in Arabic, the Moorish town flourished until the 13th century, when the Christians finally regained total control after a series of sieges and battles. Nowadays a centre of fruit and cork production, one of Silves’ main advantages is its location a bit far from the coast – indeed, even at the height of summer, the town is often overlooked by sun seekers bound instead for the glistening sands further south.
Silves | What to See
Medieval Town: The medieval centre is an enjoyable place peppered with small shops selling crafts and local produce, as well as with restaurants and cafes. Crisscrossed by steep and narrow alleys, this part of the town retains much of the original Moorish arrangement. Not far from the Castle and the Cathedral, there is a small but very interesting Archaeological Museum that explains the human presence in the region from the Palaeolithic to the 16th century. Its main attraction is a superb Arab well-cistern that was unearthed by chance in the Eighties.
Silves Medieval Festival: Held in mid-August, this lively festival takes visitors back nine centuries. People dress up in medieval clothes and wander cheerfully but orderly through the town, while dancers, musicians, jugglers and jousting knights provide a vibrant and colorful vibe to the ancient streets. Visitors can drink the local firewater and eat delicious medieval fare cooked at the many stalls scattered throughout the centre. The event provides a great and interesting evening out for all the family. It starts at 6 p.m. and runs for 10 days. Admission prices (see here, in Portuguese) vary according to the duration of the visit and the shows visitors wish to attend.
Cathedral of Silves: In serious need of proper upkeep, the gothic cathedral has notable details like a fine ceiling, horrid gargoyles and the tombs of Crusaders that died by the sword when Silves was conquered by Christian hordes composed of Portuguese, English and German troops. This cathedral was the seat of the Algarve see until the 16th century, when that honour was given instead to the Bishop’s Palace in Faro. Here too, visitors have to pay a small fee to enter the premises.
Castle of Silves: With its sandstone walls casting a reddish wash over the white town below, the great castle is a fitting reminder of Silves’ once-glorious past as one of the richest Moorish settlements in Iberia. The fortification is also one of the largest and best-preserved examples of Moorish military architecture. The castle is best seen from the outside, but its tall ramparts afford beautiful views of the surrounding countryside covered by citrus groves. Visitors have to pay a small fee to access its grounds.