Tag Archives: Algarve Region Portugal

Silves and Its Castle: Conquests and Crusades

Silves CastleIt’s not hard to find the ruins of the Moorish castle as you enter the town of Silves, Portugal.  Perched on a hilltop high above the town it dominates the landscape, its presence looming as the castle and remaining walls that surround it are easily visible from wherever you are in the city.climbing up to Castle Silves

The castle is like a picture in a kid’s storybook with its stereotypical, crenellated silhouette, narrow slits and gaps for the defenders to guard against intruders or rain down arrows and boiling oil upon enemies, massive red sandstone walls and the turrets where sentries stood watch. It’s not hard to find yourself imagining the hoof beats and neighing of horses, the sound of armored soldiers clanking by, dark robed men silently skulking about in the shadows, tradesmen mixing with peasants going about their business, the blare of trumpets and flags unfurled in the wind.Silves Castle

Our reaction when we first saw the Algarve’s biggest and arguably best preserved castle?  Big grins and what we later tried to describe to each other, a feeling of little kid wonder as we remembered tales read long ago.Castle Silves

Silves (pronounced the Portuguese way in one slurred syllable SilvSH) has archeological remains that go back to Paleolithic times and has been known by many names – Almohad, Cilpes, Shelb, Xelb – depending on who was occupying it at the time.  Located on the Rio Arade (pronounced with a g sound that sneaks its way in, A rad gee) which connected the hinterland with its riches of copper and iron to the Atlantic, it was an important trade route for the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans.  Silves’ prosperity really took off with the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in 713. The city became an economic rival to Lisbon for over two centuries claiming the nickname, “The Baghdad of the west” with its bazaars, shipyards and port.  With its strategic location overlooking the river and built upon one of the largest aquifers in southern Portugal, Silves had a lot to offer and everyone wanted it. For a few centuries a tug-of-war existed between factions of the Moors themselves, the Spanish and the eventually victorious Portuguese aided by crusaders who stopped by on their way to the Holy Land. In 1249 the Portuguese had the Moors fleeing for the final time stripped of their possessions including, according to some accounts, the clothes on their backs.  In the following centuries Silves’s fortunes waned with the loss of its North African trade routes that the Moors had established and as competition grew from other ports along the coast.  The gradual siltation of the Arade River formed a swamp which bred fevers, disease and epidemics like the Bubonic plague, which contributed to its downward spiral.  The 1755 earthquake that destroyed much of the Silves along with the rest of Portugal’s cities seemed to seal its fate.

In the background - Old Cathedral on the left and Silves Castle on the right

In the background – Old Cathedral on the left and Silves Castle on the right

Silves is a city of living history with its fabulous Moorish Castle, declared a national monument in 1910, but there are a few other reminders that testify to its former greatness as you wander through the historic part of this picturesque city.  Rising up near the castle is the second most striking building of its skyline, Sé Velha, the Old Cathedral.  A national monument since 1922; the original structure was built in the 13th century by the conquering Portuguese on the site of a former mosque.  Over the centuries it’s become an eclectic blend of many architectural styles with a Baroque façade and Manueline style doorways and windows as well as the great entrance, an arched, Gothic doorway of yellow sandstone with its balcony above embellished with corbels of animal and human faces.

Gothic doorway - Cathedral of Silves

Gothic doorway – Cathedral of Silves

Manueline doorway

Manueline doorway

Nearby is the Municipal Archeology Museum which has exhibits from the Paleolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages to Roman artifacts, displays of ceramics from the Moors and finally pieces from the Portuguese victors of the 13th century.  The museum itself is built along a section of the old city walls and incorporated an existing Islamic cistern-well originating from the 11th century that is 18 meters (59 feet) deep within its structure.12-13th century Almohad well-cistern - Almohad period

It’s hard to imagine that Silves was once a bustling port or that the Vikings war ships attempted an armed, exploratory excursion bent on looting and plunder in the 10th century up the Arade River.  Known as the Old Bridge or the Roman Bridge of Silves (although the Roman road that crossed the area would have existed several centuries earlier) the original structure was built in the 14th century.  Historically, one of the main entries into the city connecting Silves to the coast, it has five semi-circular arches that span the waterway, now heavily silted.  Today, benches have been scattered along it in the city to make it a charming place to sit and admire its beauty.old bridge

While Silves will never regain its former glory it still has a lot going for it: a pretty city spread over hills in a beautiful countryside. Its economic prosperity began to improve in the 19th century as cork and dried-fruit industries were established and many residents enjoyed an increased level of affluence. Today its economy is fueled, like many of the towns in the Algarve, by agriculture and tourism. It’s exactly the kind of city we love to visit and return to with friends to share its magic.view from Silves Castle

By Anita and Richard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lagos, Portugal: A Place Like Home

2011 was the year of “The Great Epiphany.”  It was the year we decided  we wanted an alternative to the life we were living.  It was the year we realized that the “American Dream” was no longer our exclusive priority. We wanted something different …

2012 was the year we put our finances in order, sold everything, formally said goodbye to a steady paycheck and left the country to pursue what we once thought of as a pipedream: full-time travel. Over the next three years our dream has taken us through Mexico, all of Central America and several countries in South America as well as many islands in the Caribbean.  We’ve traveled by bus, by ferry, boat and luxury ship, plane, train, taxi, collectivo and tuk-tuk.

And in 2015, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on our way to Spain, with visions of wandering across Europe dancing in our heads we decided that, while the nomadic life has been all that we wanted and more, it was time to tweak our travel dream a bit and set up a base.  A place where we could leave that extra suitcase as we leisurely explored Europe without worrying about the 90-day Schengen tourist visa and journey to North Africa, Turkey or the old Eastern Bloc.  A place where we could make friends without the constant goodbyes and even buy our own honed kitchen knives, coffee cups and pillows.  In short, it was time to find a place like home.

It was a toss-up between Spain and Portugal.   Both countries welcome foreign retirees, are relatively easy to obtain a residency visa and offer much in the way of culture, history, art and architecture, big cities and small villages, beaches, good medical care and all the needed amenities we might want.  And while we loved the small part of Spain that we visited, when we moved into our temporary abode in Ferreiras, Portugal we knew that the Algarve Region was the place for us, a place like home.carousel

Our friend, Luis said, “If you want to live in the Algarve, here are the cities you should check out.”  And so we spent our time traveling back and forth across the coast by train and, like Goldilocks, finding one city too small, one too hilly, one too quiet when the summer tourists left, …cobblestone walkway along marina

But Lagos, as Luis described it, was a city of “living history.”  A place where the cobblestone streets connect to the principal artery along the waterway leading in to the marina with benches for people watching, a place with a breathtakingly gorgeous coastline along the Atlantic, buildings from the 15th, 16th  and 17th   century, a city center that is relatively level for ease of walking on daily excursions to the fish market, the restaurants and vegetable markets as well as well stocked supermarkets.  Long popular with the British, Lagos has a large, English-speaking expat population and many of the locals also speak some English which would make settling in to the community easier.  Upon further investigation we found that there’s a language school where we can learn Portuguese, doctors, and dentists, pharmacies to meet our medical requirements, et cetera.plaza fountains & boy with church of Santa Maria and Santo Antonio

A part of the dense history clustered in Lagos is in the historic city center. Located here are the Ponta da Bandeira Fort and the original city walls – part of the complex of defenses to protect the nascent voyages of discovery – the slave market, the Governor’s Castle, and numerous ancient Catholic churches.Governors' Castle

Near the entrance to a church were two women, possibly widows, who, dressed head to toe in traditional black, whiled away the day in gossip, subtly indicating their bowls for alms. We later noticed these women leaving the historic city center in the late afternoon as we enjoyed a gelato waiting to taxi to our train back to Ferreira; the women, like ordinary workers, heading home at the end of another shift. Life, so it seems, has a rhythm that transcends national boundaries.cobblestoned streets

In the hills above Lagos are numerous villages and neighborhoods, none perhaps more picturesque than Praia da Luz. A small vertical town whose east-west streets side-hill the slopes rising out of the Atlantic while the north-south land drops precipitously on to the beach for swimming, snorkeling, boating and other aquatic opportunities. Here is a place to enjoy a cup of strong coffee, a mid-afternoon snack or simply watch the children and adults frolic in the surf.cobblestone road & ocean view

And as we hop-scotched across the Algarve region, playing our real life version of Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe the decision played out quite naturally and logically in the coastal city of Lagos. Here we were, are, betting that we will find a place like home. A place to settle in, study a new language, volunteer and teach English, become a small part in a large community and a place to serve as a travel base for further exploration, a place to return to and a place like home. Time with tell. Our application for a long-term visa is wending its way through the Portuguese bureaucracy and we await the country’s blessing on our request to reside in the Algarve.  For now we’re practicing patience while we wait, living out of our suitcases as we continue to travel and crossing our fingers.

S. Goncalo de Lagos (1360 -1422)

S. Goncalo de Lagos (1360 -1422)

By Anita and Richard