A brief history of Silves
About one thousand years ago, Silves, then the capital of the Arabian kingdom of Al-Gharb, was a rich and powerful city. It had about 30.000 inhabitants and was one of the major ports in the region, as the Arade river was navigable from the ocean to Silves. Many products, such as figs, oranges, and timber were exported to other parts of the Arabian Empire.
Archaeological discoveries in the region produce strong evidence of Paleolithic and Neolithic settlements. If would like to learn more about this, we recommend that you visit the archaeological museum in Silves. The town was probably founded by the Phoenicians some 3000 years ago. It is believed that the big cistern beneath the castle was a copper mine in that time. The Romans, who also settled here, are supposed to have built the foundations of the bridge, but it was in the period of the Arabian rule that Silves reached its greatest splendor.
In the history of Silves, it was on several occasions the capital of an independent state. The period of the Arabian domination started in 712 or 713. In 846, Silves was integrated in the Califate of Córdoba. Between 1027 and 1051, Silves was the capital of an independent state ruled by the dynasty of lbn Mozaine. Afterwards the city was integrated in the Kingdom of Seville and was ruled for 40 years by a poet called Ibn Ammar. By this time poetry had attained such a high level that Silves is considered the ‘cradle’ of the Arabian-Andalusian poetry.
In the 12th century, Silves attained a second period of cultural development during the rule of Ibne Caci, a politician, poet and philosopher. Arabian poets of that time speak of rich palaces, mosques, fine houses and beautiful women. Coming from the north, a Portuguese army under King Sancho I conquered Silves in 1189, after a long siege. They were helped by crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. The city, which had been plundered by the crusaders, was reconquered by the Arabs in 1191, but fell again to the Portuguese in 1442. The Christian conquest and the breaking down of the trade with the Arabian world, plus the silting up of river, caused the decline of Silves. In 1576 Lagos became the new capital of the Algarve. In 1577 the seat of the Diocese of the Algarve was transferred to Faro.
Much of Silves was destroyed by the earthquake of 1755. In the 19th century, the growth of the cork industry, of agriculture and the building of the railway, helped Silves to redevelop. The hospital and the town hall were built, as well as new buildings between the town hall and the river.