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The red/orange castle of Silves and the location make this an impressive place to visit.The walls are made of red sandstone (grés de Silves) with a pisé-core and have been heavily restored in the 1940s. Protruding towers of albarra-type protect the Northern slope. After the Christian conquest, the castle served as the seat of the alcaide-mor (provincial governor) till the middle of the 16th century, afterwards the towers were used as a prison.

The town was in 1242 taken from the last Muslim king Ibn Afan by Paio Peres Correia, Grand-Master of the order of Santiago, after the Alentejo and most of the coast had already fallen in 1238. The great mosque was changed into Silves Cathedral (Sé Catedral) that you see on the left.

This city was once the capital of the whole district and was still referred to in the beginning of the 19th Century as the “Kingdom of the Algarve”. Standing proudly on a hill Silves can be traced back to existing some 1.000 BC. Evidence shows that it was already a place of note in Roman times but it really became an important place during its occupation in the early 11th Century by the Moors. Giving it the name of Xelb, they constructed lavish palaces and created a cultural centre of learning for the whole Iberian Peninsular.

It is recorded that in 1189 there were over 15.000 inhabitants when the Knights of Santiago sacked the city with the assistance of the Anglo-Norman Crusaders. Two years later it was retaken by the Caliph Ben Yussef. It was only in 1242 that it was again under the control of the Portuguese Kings. From 1250 until 1267 and with the encouragement of Pope Innocent IV, the Algarve became a battle ground for its ownership between the Portuguese King Afonso III and the King of Castile. The matter was settled in the favour of the Portuguese by the Treaty of Badajoz.

Silves continued in importance as a main town of the Algarve until its commerce began a slow decline in the 15th Century due the silting-up of the Rio Arade that had given the town good access to the sea. (The authorities are at present involved in re-establishing this important link by dredging the river).
Most of the town and nearly all its ancient buildings were destroyed by the earthquake of 1755.

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