The presence of humans during the Palaeolithic period is conﬁrmed by one archaeological site. However, the whole of the area of what is now Silves municipality was inhabited during the Neolithic period and the Bronze and Iron Ages, a fact borne out by numerous archaeological ﬁnds. Particularly impressive are the abundant megalithic monuments - menhirs - carved out of the region’s red sandstone and of limestone.
From the earliest times, the Arade river was the route to the interior favoured by the vessels of diﬀerent peoples - Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians - who were drawn to the region by the copper and iron mined in the western Algarve. This much is evident from the archaeological site at Cerro da Rocha Branca – now unfortunately destroyed – less than a kilometre from Silves, which was inhabited from the end of the Bronze Age onwards, and which boasted a strong defensive wall in the 4th century B.C. and in the ensuing centuries was occupied by both the Romans and the Moors.
Silves owes its existence to the navigability of the Arade river and to its strategic position on the top of a hill that dominates a broad swathe of countryside. It was possibly founded during the period of Roman rule, but it was with the Moorish invasion which began around 714-716 that Silves became a prosperous city.
By the 11th century it was the capital of the Algarve and according to some authors surpassed Lisbon in size and importance. At this time Silves was also a centre of culture, home to poets, chroniclers and lawmakers. The religious and political tremors that rocked the Moslem world in the 11th and 12th centuries were felt in Silves too, where they manifested themselves in frequent changes of ruler, and sieges and struggles that pitted rival factions against each other. King Sancho I took advantage of this internal division to lay siege to the city in 1189. His army was aided by crusaders from Northern Europe who were on their way to the Holy Land. The ﬁght for Silves was long and cruel and, according to chronicles of the time, many of its inhabitants perished, killed by hunger and thirst or slaughtered when the crusaders sacked the town. But Portuguese rule was initially short-lived and in 1191 the city was recaptured by the Moors.
Despite having lost many of its inhabitants and much of its wealth, Silves was elevated to the status of Episcopal see and headquarters of the military government after the deﬁnitive conquest of the city as part of the Christian occupation of the Algarve - 1242 to 1249 - which was completed during the reign of King Afonso III. The centuries that followed were a diﬃcult time for Silves. With the loss of links with North Africa and the gradual silting up of the river, it found itself sidelined from the lucrative maritime trade. As a consequence its economic, political and military inﬂuence dwindled, while places like Lagos, Portimão and Faro grew in importance. Natural catastrophes like the plague, earthquakes and fevers caused by the swamp that formed where the Arade had once ﬂowed also contributed to the town’s decline. The coup de grâce came in 1534, with a papal bull allowing the transfer of the Episcopal see to Faro, a possibility that only became a reality some years later. Silves was never to recover its past splendour and for almost three centuries it was a city with a much smaller population. But in the second half of the 19th century dried fruit and, above all, cork brought new life and prosperity to the city, which became one of the main processing centres for those products. Today Silves is a city proud of its past, at the heart of a municipality with a thriving and increasingly diverse economy.
Silves Medieval Fair 2019 - One of the biggest and the best summer festivals in the Algarve