When it was a bit chilly, Kevin and I drove east to see the Palace of Estoi. A few weeks later, on one of the first truly warm days this year, Kevin and I drove west to see the Castle of Silves.
The Castle of Silves is stunning. I’d seen it many times, lit up at night, while driving through Silves to have dinner somewhere. This day was the first time Kevin and I had been there, and we were quite impressed. The Palacio do Estoi is pretty, but the Castelo de Silves is, like, a really serious/big piece of history in this region. according to Wikipedia:
“Built between the 8th and 13th century, the castle is one of the best preserved of the Moorish fortifications in Portugal … from archaeological excavations, it is assumed that the first fortress on this site consisted of a Lusitanian castro. It is believed that Phoenicans, Greeks and Carthaginians traversed the site at one time, but that around 201 B.C. the Romans conquered Silves, transforming it into a citadel of their occupation, and commercial center that prospered for the next five centuries.
Around 716, the Visigothic citadel was conquered by the Umayyad Caliphate who reinforced the existing fortifications with a new series of walls. This new period resulted in a great period of development, under the Moorish occupiers, that include the extensive walls in the west. In 1160, it was sacked by Ferdinand I of León and Castile, but remained only for a short time in the hand of the Christians: it was quickly recaptured by the Moors. King Sancho I of Portugal, supported by the powerful Crusader army, conquered the city, after a prolong encirclement in 1189. But, a grande army, under orders from Amir al-Mu’minin, in 1191, retook the city. The buildings of the Taifa kingdoms of the 11th century, which includes the Palace of Balconies (where Al-Mutamid lived as the poet Ibn Amarhe) progressed in the 11th century. The walls and towers that today represent the Castle of Silves came from these campaigns and public works by Almoravides and Almohads in the 12th and 13th centuries. The castles internal water catchment, and large rain fed underground cistern were used to provide freshwater for the surrounding dwellings (to as late as the 1920s). It would only be in the 13th century, during the reign of Afonso III of Portugal, that forces under the command of D. Paio Peres Correia, would definitively take the fortress.
So yeah, more than 2000 years ago, the site of Silves Castle was established by Moorish forces, who then passed it back and forth with Christian conquerors for 1400 years, until the Portuguese finally took hold of the whole thing.
When you’re inside the castle walls, you can see why it was chosen as the location for a massive fortification. It sits atop a hill, and you can see everything for miles. You can’t quite see the ocean, but any invading ocean forces would be held up by and easily visible crossing a natural geographic barrier – the sierra hills south of the castle.
Other than a cafe, there’s not much in the way of an organized presentation of information at the castle, but we had fun walking around the massive site, checking out the views from every angle and trying to interpret the map we had.
There was one exhibit in the room that used to be for water storage. It described the Iberian Lynx, a beautiful animal on the verge of extinction, native to Spain & Portugal.
Take a look at our photos below. It was a really beautiful day!