This is the second part of our Portugal trip. You can read the first post here.
‘So, is it a pool day or is there somewhere else to see?’ asks Madam the following morning.
‘Silves sounds interesting,’ I tell her, ‘it has a castle and an archeology museum.’
You may be thinking from my previous descriptions that Madam would be more focused on shopping and eating but that is a tad unfair. She likes old things, even me. I can always tempt her with an archeological site or something historic. As long as it has a gift shop.
We considered taking a trip on the Barca Arade up river to Silves but it would have been an hour each way on the boat and only left us with an hour and a half in the town. An Uber costs less and gets us there in twenty minutes.
Silves castle is at the top of a long steep hill above the town and the taxi was able to drop us off opposite the gates. The gates are guarded by a giant statute of Sancho I, whose forces conquered the citadel in 1189.
The original castle on the site was built around 200 BC when the Romans conquered Silves. In the 8th century it was taken over by the Moors who extended and reinforced the castle. There followed a period of a few centuries where Christian and Moorish forces took turn occupying it, until the 13th century until it was taken and retained by what was, by then, Portugal. The sandstone walls of the Moorish fortress still have their towers but inside there isn’t much left of the old citadel.
We spent a couple of hours walking the ramparts, exploring the grounds and taking pictures. Click on the Travel Photography link at the top of this page to see a few.
‘I wonder what’s down there?’ asks Madam.
She is looking at a long set of steep and narrow steps that lead down into a dark interior. I suspect it led to the original dungeons of the castle. ‘Careful!’, I say as she starts to climb down, ‘you could break a hip at your age.’
Her reply is lost in the echo of the walls.
We manage to negotiate the steps to find… an exhibition of cats. To be fair, they are all about the lynx, but a cat is a cat. I hoped to find a proper dungeon, maybe with a few instruments of torture or a skeleton hanging on the wall.
‘Was it worth the climb?’ I ask Madam as we reached daylight.
‘No,’ was her terse reply.
We want to visit the nearby Silves cathedral but find it closed for refurbishment, so we head to the archeology museum, a few yards down the hill.
The Silves Municipal Museum of Archeology is built around the Poço-Cisterna Almóada – a 13th century well which was discovered after archaeological excavations in 1980. The museum’s collections, mostly from excavations in the city and surrounding area, covers finds from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, the Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, the Iron Age and the Roman and the Medieval periods.
Chalcolithic is a new term to me and also to the spell checker on my word processor. The internet tells me that is was a brief period of using copper tools between the stone age Neolithic and the Bronze Age. It was only a phenomenon of the eastern Mediterranean regions and occurred around 3,000 BC.
The most interesting part of the museum is the well. It is around 2.45 metres wide and surrounded by a 1.5 metre spiral staircase with narrow doors cut into the side walls at intervals right down to the water table 18 metres below. I walk down to the first doorway and peer down into the murky water far below. I would have taken a picture down into the well but had a sudden vision of dropping my new phone into the water. I don’t think they would have sent down divers to recover it. There are some less impressive pictures of the outside of the well in the Silves album in the photography section.
We stop in a nearby restaurant for a lunch of tapas and ice cream and I ask Madam what else there is to see in Silves. She looks on her phone and says ‘there’s the Cruz da Portugal.’
‘What’s that?’ I ask.
‘No idea, but it’s mentioned on Trip Advisor,’ she says.
We walk a mile along a busy and dusty main road and cross a large roundabout. ‘There it is,’ says Madam.
It is a 3 metre high limestone cross, in the florid Gothic style, under a wood and tile canopy. On one side of the cross there is a Pietá, depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus, on the other a crucifix. It must have been very impressive once but weathering has dulled any fine detail. It would be more appreciated, and better preserved, if it was displayed in the museum.
‘We walked a mile to see that?’ I ask Madam.
It’s from 1499,’ she says defensively, ‘and there’s a cemetery next door.’
Silves cemetery is far more interesting and almost worth the walk. All gleaming white marble, the graves crammed together with scarcely space to walk between them. Framed pictures of the deceased are on many of the graves. It is very much still in use, as we are leaving a procession of thirty people follow a hearse into the cemetery. They are dressed in casual clothes.