Eighteen kilometres northeast of Portimão, SILVES – the medieval residence and capital of the Moorish kings of the al-Gharb – merits a half-day’s detour. It has a superb castle and a highly dramatic approach, with its red ring of walls gradually revealing themselves as you emerge from the wooded hills. Under the Moors, Silves was a place of grandeur, described in contemporary accounts as “of shining brightness” within its three dark circuits of guarding walls. Such civilized splendours came to an end in 1189, with the arrival of Sancho I who, desperately in need of extra fighting force, had recruited a rabble of “large and odious” northern crusaders. The army arrived at Silves toward the end of June and the thirty thousand Moors retreated to the citadel. There they remained through the summer, sustained by huge water cisterns and granaries, until September when, the water exhausted, they opened negotiations.
The gates were opened after Sancho negotiated guarantees for the inhabitants’ safety; all were ignored by the Crusaders, who duly ransacked the town, killing some six thousand Moors in the process. Silves passed back into Moorish hands two years later, but by then the town had been irreparably weakened, and it finally fell to Christian forces in 1249.Read More