The hillside town of Silves presents a wonderful opportunity to explore the Moorish roots of the Algarve region. And, Castelo de Silves is one of the best preserved castles in the south of Portugal, even after the devastating Lisbon earthquake on November 1, 1755.
I find it strangely satisfying to explore somewhere I never had the slightest inclination to visit. Japan was on my list of places to wanderlust for as long as I can remember. Equally, my fascination with South East Asian cultures took me to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Vienna, Budapest, and Seville are all on my list of cities in Europe that I desperately want to explore.
On the other hand, Portugal was not on my radar until very recently when a friend that lives in the Algarve suggested Meredith and I visit to take in the ample sunshine, food, wine, beaches, and culture.
I am certainly glad we made the trek — I enjoy the challenge of trying to learn a few Portuguese words in order to show the locals that us westerners respect their language; I love going to the supermarket and figuring out names of produce or fish; and I get lost in the time it takes to immerse myself in the history and culture of a country that is so new to me.
Heck, I didn’t even really do much pre-trip research to see what sights and activities are in the area. I like wandering without a plan and traveling wherever the road takes you. It is the most freeing type of travel – without expectations or an agenda. That way, I am never disappointed and can enjoy each moment.
A sleepy town of approximately 37,000 inhabitants, Silves serves as a reminder that the Moors (and Romans before them) occupied these lands for centuries. The dominate red sandstone castle sits proudly upon the hillside, its battle hardened towers and walls long since retired from the duties of war.
Nowadays the castle awaits the next group of tourists arriving by bus to take in the castle’s history and try to imagine life as a Moor in the 12th century, living on the Iberian peninsula.
The winding streets and alleys of Silves town are best explored on foot. Be prepared with comfortable shoes if you do decide to walk, the train station is outside of the main town area and requires a good 20 minute jaunt into the main town.
Cross the white bridge and meander through the streets of Silves, stopping in the tourist shops or for a quick bite to eat and a coffee at one of the pastelaria. Or, do what we did and buy your picnic food at Lidl – one of our favorite discount grocery chains in Ireland (and apparently around Europe).
We arrived at approximately 2:15 in the afternoon, which meant we had about 2 and a half hours of daylight left to explore the town before we needed to make the return walk to the train station. Three hours is certainly enough time to see Silves Castle, however another hour would have been beneficial for a nice relaxing sitdown drink overlooking the river.
I can’t imagine driving around the narrow bends and cobblestone streets, best leave the driving to the locals. However, if you do decide to take a car to Silves there seemed to be plenty of parking spots available in and around the center of town.
Discover Silves Castle
Built between the 8th and 13th century, the Castle of Silves is one of the best preserved and most important Moorish fortifications in Portugal. Before the Moors conquered the area of Silves, the Romans had made it a commercial center that prospered for nearly five centuries.
The castle we see today is not entirely original, having been rebuilt on several occasions, especially after the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 that saw the loss of parts of the castle towers and walls. Sometime during the 18th century, the dungeons were reconstructed and the ceilings repainted.
Walls – The robust wall is made of taipa (mud mixed with lime and stones) clad in red sandstone from the region. Ten irregular sized towers in total form the remainder of the wall construction, adapted to the topography of the site.
Houses – The archaeological remains of palatial houses built of taipa foundations can be seen along the eastern side of the interior of the castle. I imagine they would have been grand residential areas with stuccowork decorated with reliefs, portico, and multi storied residences outfit with the latest in style and decor.
Cistern – A large cistern on the north east parts of the grounds can be accessed by a set of steep stairs. With an estimated capacity of 1,300,000 litres, it could supply approximately 1,200 people with water for almost an entire year. It was crucial to have a large cistern and grain stores in castles such as Silves in order to be able to supply people with water during periods of siege.
Silves town and castle are within easy reach by both car and train from anywhere in the Algarve region, and well worth a day trip.
Accommodation in Silves