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2014-10-30 > 2014-11-05
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Borough of Silves

Silves is a beautiful ancient town and municipality, with a population reaching 33,830 inhabitants and an area of 678.75 km². The borough has eight freguesias (parishes): Alcantarilha, Algoz, Armação de Pêra, São Bartolomeu de Messines, Pêra, São Marcos da Serra, Silves and Tunes (famous for having the railway station that connects the Algarve with Lisbon). This is a vast municipality at the heart of one of Portugal's best citrus-growing areas. It also has factories processing cork – and wine buffs should check out the excellent vineyard in Algoz, owned by up-and-coming winemaker Rui Virginia.

Although now an agricultural centre, the town of Silves’ fascination for visitors is historical. The two most visible buildings, its red sandstone castle and the red and white cathedral next to it, are reminders that in medieval times this was the most strongly fortified and most strenuously fought-over place in the Algarve.

Standing proudly on a hill above the Arade river, Silves can be traced back to 1.000 BC. The Romans had a secure settlement here, but it was the Moors who built it into a fine, prosperous town with gleaming minarets and bazaars brimming with merchandise. They called it Xelb and made it their regional capital. It was a place of peace and plenty in the 12th century. Then in 1189 Portuguese Christian forces, aided by thousands of English, German and Flemish Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land, attacked Silves - razing everything outside the town walls and laying siege to the castle. Years of bloody battles ensued before the town was brought back under Portuguese control. These days the castle is open to the public, and its past is lost amid well-tended jacaranda trees, oleander shrubs and flowerbeds. The cistern, which held sufficient water to last out a year-long siege, is permanently closed. Apart from bits of the walls, the only Moorish feature left is a well, originally Roman, 65-metres deep. Another Moorish well is the central feature of a small, modern museum in a nearby side street.

Elsewhere in the borough, there is a small chapel in Alcantarilha decorated with the bones of former inhabitants – and, as you’d expect, Armação de Pêra on the coast has been transformed to cater for the mass tourist industry. In the old days, it was a little fishing village where the fishermen used to catch tuna. Now, it is one of the Algarve’s most popular family resorts with fascinating rock formations, caves and grottoes.

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Localities and Places in the Borough of Silves
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Afonso Vaz
Aldeia de Lavega
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