On to Portugal! Earlier this spring, we escaped from Seville during the massive Semana Santa festivities to find some peace and quiet in the Algarve region of Portugal.
We stayed in the city of Lagos for a week, and spent our time taking day trips around the area. An interesting town that’s a popular visit, but not so popular when compared to the serene beaches of southern Portugal, is Silves.
Have a map, for your geographical pleasure…
Silves was one of the most important cities of western Al-Andalus, which was part of the massive caliphate of Cordoba during the Muslim reign of the Iberian peninsula. It sits in the low hills of the Algarve, only 20-30 minutes’ drive from the coast and just south of the mountains of the region.
While the city looks small, much smaller than the 37,000 residents the internet tells me it has, it’s a treasure trove of historic monuments and buildings, and tight, winding streets that are fun to walk up and down, and up and down again.
The first thing we did when we arrived in town was visit the old castle. This place started its life all the way back around 201 BC, which is just crazy, right? It was Roman for several centuries, before being conquered by Arabs in the 8th century. At that point, it was built into a serious fortress and held until Christians conquered the area in the 13th century.
Silves became less important at this time, as the seaside city of Faro gained prominence, and was then partially destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. During the 20th century, various construction was done to repair and revitalize the castle, but it wasn’t until 2005 that excavations began on the castle, and that’s when the details of the old Muslim ruins were rediscovered.
Aaaanyway, we walked around the castle for a while as the sun started to warm up our chilly bottoms, and we enjoyed looking at the old rooms and walls of this old place.
Underneath the castle in what I think used to be the old water cisterns, there’s inexplicably an entire area dedicated to the preservation of the Iberian lynx.
We have no idea why this was in the castle, and we didn’t get to see any actual lynx – just a fake little kitten – but it’s always nice to see that someone’s doing something to preserve a species.
There’s also a very modern visitor center and café in the middle of the castle grounds. Most might think the architecture looks a bit out of place, but I dug it.
Also on the grounds were an exhibit of sculptures by various artists from across the world.
As one can only walk around a castle for so long, we headed out to explore the streets and check out the architecture.
Right next to the castle is Silves Cathedral, which, as was typical here in Iberia, was originally a mosque that was converted by the Christians way back when.
It was closed when we were there, so we didn’t get to go inside.
After winding in and out of the town’s streets for a while, we headed to the water to check out the old Roman bridge that spans the Arade River.
While this area is quite pretty, the river, on the other hand, is quite funky. It appears too many things have happened over time – natural or man-made – and the river was not at its best. It’s a little stagnant and I’m not sure we saw any flow at all.
Down by the water, there’s also an interesting plaza, with a water feature and statues, and various inscriptions in Arabic.
I could make up a story here, or search the internet, but I’ll instead just tell you that I’m not really sure what it was. Ha! It was cool, though.
Once our adventure was done, we dipped into a side street and randomly landed at Taberna Almedina for a snack and a drink.
And I tell you what, these guys did not disappoint. Grilled sausages, and cheese with honey and walnuts, anyone?
Also, this is where we discovered white sangria. Or, it discovered us. As I had to drive, we only ordered a small pitcher of it. And…my goodness. This stuff is good. Deadly good.
And that’s that! A nice little day trip and some good sunshine. If you visit the Algarve, it’s certainly worth it to leave the sandy beaches for a day and check out the history of Silves.
Want more? Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Flickr.
Have you ever been to Silves, or the Algarve? If so, what’d you think? If not, what say ye? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!