Travel advice for Silves on the upper course of the river Arade, the former Moorish capital of the Algarve in southern Portugal with the fabulous Moorish castle, the cathedral Sé and a remarkable archaeological museum: Accommodation, sightseeing, restaurants, golf courses, viticulture, history, ...
- District: Faro > Municipality: Silves > Parish:
- Population: 11.000
- Distances: Faro Airport 70 km, Lisbon Airport 256 km
- Tourist Info: Posto de Turismo de Silves
Silves is a city (cidade) and municipality (concelho) in the district of Faro (Algarve), the southernmost region in continental Portugal. During the centuries of Arab occupation it was the cultural and administrative centre of the Algarve.
Silves location and access
Silves in the Barrocal region on the Rio Arade
Silves is the oldest city in the Algarve situated inland on the fertile Barrocal plains at the foothills of the Serra de Monchique. It is located on the upper basin of the Rio Arade, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean close to Portimão.
From the EN 125, the main road linking east to west in the Algarve, and from the A22 motorway (exit 7) it takes minutes to reach Silves via the N124-1. If you are not in a hurry you may consider an alternative route to enjoy the beautiful landscape surrounding Silves, the M269 from Alcantarilha.
The nearest train station on the Linha do Algarve, the one track railway, is a few kilometres south of Silves. It is better to use the EVA buses to travel from Silves to other destinations.
During the time of the Arab occupation the river Arade was an important waterway, connecting Silves with the harbour of Portimão. Today you can only travel by canoe to the upper basin.
Places of interest in Silves
Moorish castle, cathedral, archaeological museum and Ponte Velha
There is a lot to see in Silves. The old bridge Ponte Velha over the river Arade offers a picturesque panoramic view of the river and the castle. The bridge, which in these days is only accessible to pedestrians, is also known as Roman Bridge, although it is most likely of medieval origin. It is one of the landmarks of Silves and an ideal place to have a photograph taken to remind you of this historic city when you return home.
We recommend to leave your car in the parking area by the edge of the river and to discover the city on foot. In the heat of the summer the steep walk up to the castle can be strenuous, although well worth the effort. The Archaeological Museum in the Municipal Square displays a wide variety of artefacts related to the complex and diverse history of this ancient city and its surroundings. The Cathedral of Silves with its large churchyard was built on the foundations of an old mosque. This historic building is well worth seeing. Until 1577 Silves was the seat of the Bishop of the Algarve.
The castle of Silves (Castelo de Silves) was built between the 9th and 12th centuries. Not only is it an iconic monument in the city but also one of the most important buildings dating from the Arab period of the Algarve. Its ramparts and battlements were built with red sandstone originating from Silves. The castle was classified as a National Monument in 1910.
The massive castle is the largest and best preserved monument of its kind in the Algarve. Its crenellated walls with a length of 400 meters convey an idea of the resilience, power and invincibility of this fortress. The view of the interior of the castle, which occupies an area of about 12 000 m2 demonstrates its enormous size.
In the citadel two water tanks (cisternas) stand out: the main one is rectangular and of colossal dimensions, with a dome, and once guaranteed the water supply of both the castle and the city. However, the second tank, known as the Cisterna dos Cães has a depth of more than 60 metres and is thought to have been an old well.
From the walls there is a very impressive view over the elevated part of the city, the cathedral, lower Silves by the edge of the River Arade and the surrounding green hills.
Silves shopping and gastronomy
Silves: municipal market and Marisqueira Rui
Located in downtown Silves near the river’s edge and the Roman Bridge is the Municipal Market (Mercado municipal), where you can buy regional agricultural produce, fish and seafood. It is well worth a visit, especially on Saturdays; the vibrant scene gives visitors an excellent opportunity to discover more about the country and its people.
The picturesque streets of the upper part of Silves offer visitors the opportunity to shop regional handicraft products.
Near the municipal market is Marisqueira Rui, the most famous restaurant in town. The seafood here is recommended in all tourist guides, and is often referred to as the best fish restaurant in the Algarve. The cuisine is traditional and is not just confined to fish dishes and seafood. When we had lunch there with friends, we found the popular restaurant full of locals.
Surroundings of Silves
The surroundings of Silves: Armação de Pêra, Algoz and Alcantarilha
Silves is an ideal starting point for hiking and biking tours. Recommended paths lead along the Arade river and to the dams of Funcho and Arade up in the hills.
The nearest golf courses are the Pestana Silves Golf Resort and the Amendoeira Golf Resort with the Oceânico Faldo and O'Connor courses near Alcantarilha. A large number of other magnificent golf courses are within a thirty minute drive.
The municipality of Silves, which stretches as far as the Atlantic coast, includes the beautiful beaches in the Armação de Pêra area.
The outskirts of Algoz are a well known wine growing area. In many good restaurants and quality shops you can find the exquisite wines of Quinta do Barranco Longo, a winery that works with the latest winemaking technology..
We recommend a visit to Alcantarilha on the EN125. This attractive parish has a well conserved centre in the old village and an impressive chapel of bones.
History of Silves
Silves, the cultural centre of the Algarve during the Moorish period
Archaeological remains from the first settlements by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the Silves area date back as far as the first millennium. At that time, the site was called Cilpes. Later, in Roman times, it developed into an important town despite its inland location, but at that time it was connected to the sea via the river Arade which was then navigable down to the ocean.
From 713 and known by the Arabic name of Xelb, the town was part of the Caliphate of Córdoba. However, the Caliphate fragmented into several small kingdoms, known as Taifas. During this break up, Silves gained some independence as capital of the Algarve. Several Muslim dynasties followed and with these the city developed into an important cultural centre.
It was in 1142, when Silves was conquered by Christian troops for the first time, but only for a few years. Silves was re-conquered by the Christians in 1189, under Dom Sancho, who declared himself king of Portugal, Silves and the Algarve. There is a large statue of King Sancho I at the castle entrance.
In the period from 1242 to 1246, D. Paio Peres Correia and the Knights of Santiago finally ended the domination the Moors forever. This victory, which culminated in the reconquest of Faro in 1249, was achieved as part of a military campaign by the religious orders commissioned by King Sancho II.
Following this, the Governor of the Algarve, chose Silves Castle as his headquarters. In 1169, the crown of Castile abdicated their rights to the Algarve and the then Bishop Bartholomew was the driving force behind the campaign to build the cathedral. In 1266, King Afonso III raised Silves to city status.
The economic decline began in the fifteenth century, mainly because the Arade river silted up resulting in the coastal regions becoming more important. In 1577, the seat of the Bishop moved to Faro; the 1755 earthquake destroyed almost all the houses in Silves.
In the nineteenth century the first factories were set up to manufacture cork and the development of this industry created jobs and wealth for Silves.
Testimony to this is the Fábrica do Inglês, a cork factory, which was transformed into a museum. Unfortunately, this display of the manufacturing history of Silves has closed down due financial reasons.
Municipality of Silves
The municipality of Silves includes the coastal parish of Armação de Pêra, the neighbouring parish of Alcantarilha e Pera, Algoz e Tunes in the Barrocal foothills, the city of Silves itself, together with the village of São Bartolomeu de Messines and the parish of São Marcos da Serra, in the hills. In 2011, 37 000 people lived in the municipality, an increase of about 10% compared to 2001.