Eighteen kilometres northeast of Portimão, with a superb castle whose dramatic ring of red walls gradually reveal themselves as you approach, SILVES is well worth at least a half-day’s visit. While under Moorish occupation, the town was the capital of the Algarve – indeed it was the Moors who named the region al-Gharb (“the west”), and built Silves into a well-fortified and sophisticated place. The town’s golden age came to an end, however, in 1189 with the arrival of Sancho I and his large, unruly army of Crusaders, who laid siege to thirty thousand Moorish inhabitants in the citadel for three months. When the Moors’ water and food supplies finally ran low they agreed to open the citadel gates in return for Sancho guaranteeing the safety of its inhabitants. The Crusaders, however, ignored Sancho’s pledge and killed some six thousand Moors as they gleefully took the fortress. 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 for good in 1249.

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