After a full day of no driving but plenty of walking today we returned to four wheels and planned a trip to the nearby town of Silves. I had been there before of course so there were more comparisons to be made.
Silves was once a Moorish city, the capital of the Algarve and the most important city in all of what is now Portugal. How the Moors must have loved life in Iberia, excellent weather (not as hot as North Africa), no deserts, plenty of fresh water, good fertile soil for crops and not nearly so many flies.
This idyllic lifestyle came to a sudden and abrupt end after the Reconquest when the Moors were forced to abandon their city after a brutal siege by Northern Crusaders. In Spain and Portugal they celebrate the reconquest but in reality it was the replacement of a benevolent and progressive regime with a barbaric and medieval reversal of progress.
Without the Moors the city became neglected, the river silted up and the city went into a long period of decline. This is something that always intrigues me, it is rather like the Roman Empire, great civilizations provide advancement in human development but Barbarians always come along and tear it down and set progress back several hundred years. Rather like BREXIT in the United Kingdom right now. It really frustrates me because we learn absolutely nothing from history.
What happened to the Ancient Egyptians, the Native Americans of USA, the Classical Greeks, the Romans, they all showed great progress in human development and then they disappeared and the process was reversed. What lies ahead for us I wonder?
To reach Silves there was a magnificent approach from the south as the road dropped into the lush green valley of the Rio Arade and then climbed through the ridges and boulders of the other side with all the time the magnificent spectacle of the red sandstone walls of the old Moorish castle undulating along the top of highest point with its defensive turrets thrusting magnificently into the sky above us.
This is what we had mostly come to see so we found a car park and made our way to the castle past the statue of Sancho I of Portugal and towards the main gate. Interestingly Sancho seems to have been moved and relocated since my visit there twenty-five years before because from modern pictures he seems to be much closer to the entrance than I remember.
We went inside and were struck by the fact that the Portuguese hadn’t spent a lot of the renovation budget on basic health and safety. The Castle was a disaster waiting to happen, with uneven surfaces, irregular steps and almost completely without handrails or safety barriers to prevent visitors accidentally slipping off of the high battlements and becoming a permanent addition to the rocky foundations below.
Except for making sure we didn’t get too close to the edge and fall over this didn’t really spoil the visit to the castle and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements and through the gardens, discovering interesting fragments of history and reading about the Moorish occupation and the eventual Portuguese reconquest.
Outside the castle we walked around the narrow streets and the pastel coloured houses with their elegant but rusting iron balconies and the window boxes overflowing with boiling geraniums, visited the cathedral and stopping frequently to admire the views and to conclude that Silves hadn’t changed a great deal in the intervening years since my first visit.
The storks were still there…
After a couple of hours we made our way back to the coast.