This is the English version of my blog GDAMAS (Portuguese language, online since 2010). I'm still working on it. English is not my native language.
Portugal, a paradise for History lovers, features some of the best castles to visit in Europe. Among them is the fascinating Silves Castle, in Silves (Algarve, south of the country).
This is the castle you will discover now with me. The virtual tour brings lots of photos and tips for your real-life visit. At the end, a link leads to extra photos.
Get ready for another adventure in the Algarve.
In Silves’ historic centre
Living in the Algarve makes me go to Silves every year. At least once per year, in August, when the city promotes the popular Silves Medieval Fair.
The historic centre offers tourists a memorable day. If the visit happens in Spring or Summer, there will be an extra touch of wonder: A lot of storks around, and they are a show that amazes everybody.
The best of the tour starts when we cross the Old Town Gate (Portas da Cidade de Silves). We then follow up through narrow streets, sometimes witnessing an archaeological work.
Curious sites appear in the path, such as the Silves Cathedral, the pottery shop Al-Tannur, and Café Inglês Restaurant, where I sometimes rest and eat pizzas. A few steps away from this restaurant, we find — oh yes! — the town’s greatest star: the Silves Castle.
Take a deep breath: You’re about to witness what researchers consider being the best example of Islamic military constructions in Portugal.
Damas, can you say something about the past of the castle before we start the visit?
Sure, but in a very brief way.
A bit of history
If possible to go back even further in time, before the construction of Silves Castle, we would find a fortification there, probably built by the Romans or the Visigoths. But the story of our visit begins in the eighth century, with the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by the Muslims. In the following centuries, Silves region developed and reached its peak. It thus attracted the greed of other Muslim princes, being the arena of bloody disputes.
Disputes continued in the Christian Reconquest era. In 1189, under the command of King D. Sancho I, with the aid of the Crusaders, the Portuguese armies attacked Silves relentlessly, with a wide variety of war machines — and they won.
Two years later, the Muslims counterattacked and retook the region.
In 1242, there was a frustrated rematch of the knights of the Order of Santiago. Only in 1253, under the reign of D. Alfonso III, the village of Silves and its castle returned to the hands of Portugal.
Imagine now the battles, the blood spilled there, all the pain, the torture, the despair. Today, we visit the area in peace and feel amazed. What once was a site of terror is now a place for tourism — this is evolution.
Currently, the castle is not in better condition because it has also been a victim of nature: Portugal has trembled with earthquakes throughout history.
The exterior of the castle
Silves Castle is visible from many points of Silves. It couldn’t be different, because castles traditionally appeared in high grounds to facilitate surveillance and defense.
The closer we get to its walls, the bigger the thrills. My imagination flows: I visualize the workers building that marvel of engineering and architecture. Oh, wait, I also see other inhabitants in their routines… feeling the past in such an intense concentration that I can almost touch someone passing by. I can even smell their food and other aromas.
Suddenly, the huge, preserved walls intimidate us but make an irresistible invitation to a visit.
A few steps from the main entrance, pay attention to an enormous bronze statue. It is a tradition for tourists to take pictures there. The statue is a tribute to D. Sancho I — the one who appeared in the section “A bit of history.”
Interesting, Damas. And I can see he holds a letter. Can I take a closer look at it?
You just ask, I obey.
Now… it’s time for you to enter the castle with me.
Inside the walls
Before exploring the interior, we pass through a wide covered area that gives access to the ticket sales point.
Finally, we cross a glass door to enjoy the best of the day.
Walls at open sky greet us. We can — and should — climb them to feel deeper emotions and to get amazing views up there.
Remains of constructions, alongside a wall, catch our attention when we walk just a few more steps. It’s more interesting to observe them from the top of the wall.
There are also traces of huge cisterns for water and silos for food. Together, cisterns and silos could keep the population in there for a long time, making it more resistant to foreign attacks. Researches believe one cistern was once an ancient Roman well used for copper exploration.
Enjoy now this series of photos:
As you walk along the top of the walls, pay attention to a small room with several items found in local excavations. There are pots, jars, amphorae, spearheads, etc.
Finally, again at the bottom, further down, to the left, locate a bar. It can be your salvation during the visit (I explain this below).
Oh, Damas, I’m so excited to see all this in person!
Great to know how you are, but now I have some tips and warnings you’ll need to follow.
Warnings and tips for your visit
Pay special attention if your visit happens in Summer, because temperatures (the real feel) often exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Algarve, and Silves is even hotter compared to the entire region. I recommend sunscreen, sunglasses and head protection (hat or cap). Remember, please: It’s an open-air visit.
The bar mentioned above will be paradise to appease your thirst (you will want lots of water, water, water… or maybe a Portuguese beer?). Sit, relax, contemplate. Eat something. After all, how many times in life do you sit down to eat and drink inside a castle?
Rain requires thousands of times more attention for those who climb the walls, because they’re slippery, and there’s no handrail or other support for the visitor to lean on. In fact, even without rain, it’s necessary to be careful: Every year, tourists die in Portugal because of falls in places like this. The primary cause of distraction are moments of selfies.
Silves Medieval Fair
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, Silves Castle is part of the annual Silves Medieval Fair. I emphasize: If your visit happens in August, don’t miss this exciting event.
Timetable and prices
Silves Castle opens every day except Christmas and New Year.
From 2 January to 31 May, it opens to the public from 9h to 17h30; in June, from 9h to 19h; 1 July to 31 August, from 9h to 22h; 1 September to 15 October, from 9h to 20h; 16 October to 31 December, from 9h to 17h30. Last entry permitted 30 minutes before closing time.
The ticket costs 2,80€, but children and visitors over 65 years old get a 50% discount.
I’ve never seen the castle full of tourists (Silves does not invest in its own tourist potential). Most likely, you’ll have a peaceful visit.
(Remember: prices and opening times may change.)
To make your life easier, find Silves Castle on Google Maps.
Interested in seeing more photos I took at Silves Castle? Follow HERE to visit an album I created in my Google Photos.