THE WAYS OF THE GARB

OS CAMINHOS DO GARBE

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BRIEF HISTORY OF SILVES

Silves, the historic Algarvean city is located in the “Barrocal” between the sea and the mountains. Its importance throughout history is owed in large part to the Arade river, which flows gently to the sea and has always served the city and its fertile riverbanks.

The origins of the city are so ancient that the date of its foundation is difficult to pinpoint. It is thought that the city pre-dates the arrival of the Carthaginians and is perhaps of Phoenician foundation (900 B.C.). Significant archaeological finds show the existence of pre-historic peoples in the country during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods. During the Roman period, then known as Cilpes, the city was already important, minted coinage and contained many monumental buildings as evidenced by the remains of these structures, cobble stones and by the great quantity and type of tomb stones discovered.

But it was during the Arab period between the 8th and the 12th century, when its name became Xelb or Xilb, that the city reached its greatest splendour, becoming one of the most important cities of the Gharb al-Andalus. It was several times capital of the region and remains from the period leave us in no doubt of its high culture during this time.

From the middle of the 13th century, with the definitive Christian conquest of the city in 1246, Silves began upon a period of decline from which it would only emerge much later and with great difficulty. D. Afonso III granter a charter to Silves in 1266 and in 1269 he granted another to the “mouros forros” (free moors) and at the same time founding the first Cathedral which is thought to have been built on the site of the former Grand Mosque.

Silves only began to grow in importance again in the 15th century with the advent of the voyages of the discoveries and the establishment at Lagos of Henry the Navigator, himself a grand instigator of the voyages. During the mid 1400’s Silves has a population of about 1000 inhabitants (14.000 less than during the Arab dominion). At the end of the 15th century, D. João II, who hat bestowed considerable improvements on Silves, died in Alvor and was buried in Silves Cathedral from where, years later, his remains would be transported by D. Manuel to the Monastery of Batalha.

In 1505, the same king, in a gesture designed to promote the “sleeping” city, granted a new charter to Silves, bestowing greater powers. The gradual decay of Silves over the centuries was accelerated by a terrible accident: the earthquake of 1755, which left scarcely 20 houses still standing in the city.

Only in the end of the19th century, thanks to the cork industry, did the city regain some of its power and prestige and began its political and commercial resurgence.

During the 20th century and up to today, significant investment has been made in renovation of both the architectural and cultural heritage, which has come down to us through the centuries and clamours for a place in the collective memory of the city.

THE ARABS IN SILVES

Occupied by Arabs from the Yemen and by North African colonialists, immediately following the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century, Silves became part of the Omayyad Caliphate of Damascus and took on a specifically Arab civilisation. The city was the seat of an independent dynasty, the Banu Muzain.

In 1053 it was conquered by Al-Mutadid, lord of the Taifa Kingdom of Seville under the command of his son Al-Mutamid Ibn Abbad, who was appointed governor of the Gharb and established his capital at Silves. It was Al-Mutamid who would transform Silves into a cosmopolitan city, admired through out the Muslim empire, were culture assumed a position of great importance.

At the end of the 11th century, with the arrival of the Almoravids, Berbers from the african interior, and the overthrow of Al-Mutamid, at that time King of Seville, ended the period of Taifas. Silves lost importance, but continued attracting men of culture.

In the mid 12th century, a political and religious movement arose in Silves, led by Ibn Qasi, who proclaimed himself “Madhi” (the messiah that would come at the end of the world) and who governed the city for several years.

In 1157, after the death of Ibn Qasi, the Almohads conquered Silves and reinforced its battlement walls and defensive towers turning the city into a great fortress.

In 1189, Silves, with 15.000 inhabitants and one of the largest cities in Al-Andalus, was conquered by D. Sancho, King of Portugal after a siege. The Muslim city, led by Abi Hafs ben Ali, surrendered on the 3rd of September 1189 having completely run out of drinking water.

On hearing the news of the surrender of Silves, the Almohad Caliph Yaqûb Yûsuf Al-Mansor became very angry and immediately laid siege to the city and re-took it in 1191. Ruined by wars and in spite of the Almohad attempts at renovation, the city never again attained its former prestige. The last Arab Lord of Silves, Aben Afan would reign until 1249, the year of the definitive conquest of Silves from the Muslims.

Silves was, during the Arab period, one of the most important cultural centres of the Gharb Al-Andalus. Remains of this grandeur continue to be visible, throughout the city and particularly in the battlement walls, the towers, the cisterns and the admirable collection of archaeological material.

THE ARABS IN SILVES: CHRONOLOGY

Umayyad Period, 8th-9th century

(Relative to the Omayyad Caliphate of Damascus)

713 – Conquest of Silves (Abdalaziz)

763 – Abassid landing in Algarve

Caliphal Period, 10th century

929 - Abd Al-Rahmãn III, Caliph of Cordoba

1031 – Fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba – birth of the poet Abu Bacre Ibn Ammar, governor of Silves and vizier of Seville

Taifa Kingdoms, 11th century

(Christian kingdoms and Taifa kingdoms of the south-western Peninsula)

1048 - Taifa kingdom of Silves under Banu Muzayn

1061 - Beginnings of Almoravid orthodoxy

1063 - Annexation of Silves to the Seville Taifa kingdom by Al Mutadid

         - Al-Mutamid, governor of Silves

1069 - Al-Mutamid, king of Seville

1070 - Foundation of Marrakech (Almoravid)

1086 - Death of Ibn Ammar

Almoravid Period, 11th – 12th century

(First Berber dynasty from Sahara)

1091 - Almoravid conquest of Seville and exile of Al-Mutamid to Agmat

         - Brief conquest of Silves by Afonso VI of Leon and Castile

1095 - Death of Al-Mutamid in Agmat

1144 - Abu Walid Mohammad Ibn Al-Mundir rises to power in Silves

1145 - Abu-L-Kasim Ibn Qasi becomes Lord of Mértola

1147 - Ibn Qasi becomes Lord of Silves

1151 - Death of Ibn Qasi in Silves

Almohad Period, 12th – 13th century

(Second berber dynasty from Sahara)

1146 - Almohads land in Al-Andalus

1156 - Almohad conquest of Silves (Sidray Ibn Wazir)

1189 - Conquest of Silves by D. Sancho I (2nd king of Portugal)

1191 - Re-conquest of Silves by Yakub Yusuf II, Al-Mansor

13th century

(Beginning of the Christian period)

1242 - Conquest of Silves by D. Paio Peres Correia in the service of D. Afonso III

1255 - Silves and Algarve officially integrated into the Portuguese Crown

THE TAIFA KINGDOMS AND AL-MUTAMID

With the fall of the caliphate of Cordoba and in the absence of a united power, there arose, on the Iberian Peninsula in, 1031, a series of independent kingdoms, which established and fought over by the different local forces, Arabs, Berbers, Mozarabs and converts.

It was in this climate of dispute and war that the Abádids created the Taifa of Seville, which soon encompassed the Gharb region and Silves. Al-Mutadid Ibn Abbad, Lord of Seville, in this way also became Lord of Silves and appointed as governor his son Al-Mutamid Ibn Abbad, born in 1040 in Beja (Portugal) who would make Silves his capital from 1053.

It was along with Ibn Ammar, a poet native to the region and who became his friend and advisor, that Al-Mutamid gathered in Silves a court of intellectuals and poets who would make Silves not only a political and administrative capital but also a cultural capital, attaining at that time a splendour never seen before and gaining a considerable importance throughout the south far west of the Iberian Peninsula.

In 1069, Al-Mutamid left Silves and became king of Seville, entrusting Silves to his faithful friend Ibn Ammar, who later betrayed him and, for this, was executed.

In the 11th century, under King Al-Mutamid Ibn Abbad, who would write some of his most beautiful poems in Silves and who would enrich the city with grand buildings, Silves also saw the flourishing of many great poets, philosophers and geographers, such as Ibn Ammar, Mariame Alansari, Assilbia, Ibn Qasi, Ibn Mozaine, Ibn Badrum, etc.

In an attempt to defeat the growing Christian threat, Al-Mutamid Ibn Abbad requested help from Ibn Tashfin, chief of the Almoravid Dynasty, who at that time ruled over the whole of the Magreb. Without knowing it, Al-Mutamid was also signing the end of his reign and of the Taifa Kingdoms. In 1091, he was exiled along with his family to Aghmat near Marrakech, the Almoravid capital, where he died in 1095.

Today, the figure of Al-Mutamid is more than ever the point of convergence for scholars, poets, historians, linguists and politicians responsible for the recuperation of a common past and a strategy of cooperation between Portugal, Spain and Morocco.

THE CASTLE AND THE PALACE OF THE VERANDAS

Located at the highest point in the city, built using local red sandstone, Silves castle, probably dates back to pre Roman times, has been altered and reinforced over the many centuries. In the Arab period it was very luxurious when it became the residence of the Banu Muzain, the first muslims to govern the city.

In addition to the cisterns found within the walls, the compound included the legendary “Qsar Al-Xarajib”, the Palace of the Verandas, where Al-Mutamid Ibn Abbad, heir to the throne of Seville lived from 1053 when he became governor of the Gharb. Praised by arab poets for its beauty and riches, the Palace of the Verandas is still today an important point of reference in the history of Silves. From this golden age, several descriptions of this magnificient palace come down to us like a vision from “ A Thousand and One Nights”.

In the 12th century Ibn Qasi lived there and was assassinated there. At the end of the 12th century the castle, like the city, fell in to the hands of D. Sancho I, being re-conquered in 1191 by Almohad troops. There resided also the last Muslim lord of the city, Aben Afan (also known as Mahfot).

In 1246, the castle and its palace were definitely in Christian hands. The castle was restored and reinforced during the Christian period, having been the residence of the mayors and the place where the kings stayed when they visited Silves.

At the end of the 19th century the castle was handed over to the Municipal Authority who installed prisons in its four towers. The extensive rebuilding and restoration, that can be seen today was carried out during the 1930’s and 1940’s under the General Directorate of National Monuments. In 1947, once it had stopped being used as a prison, the castle was opened to the public and today remains one of the most visited national monuments in Portugal, both for its historic past and for its magnificent panoramic views over the city and the region.

The excavations which have been carried out and are continuing in the castle have brought to light artefacts that prove its antiquity and the importance of those that lived there, and also have identified dwelling structures that bear witness to the existence of luxurious residences and – who knows? – of the famous Palace of the Verandas.

ISLAMIC HERITAGE INTERPRETATION CENTRE

From the centuries of long presence of Muslim civilisation we have inherited models and modes of living which today are part of our history, language, customs and genetic make-up and today we wish to re-interpret, studying archaeological and historical remains and also debating the contemporaneousness of this legacy.

It is this new consciousness of the cultural dimension of the historic past that is behind the cultural projects that the city of Silves have been developing and consolidating with their historical partners both in Portugal and abroad, most particularly with Morocco. From these initiatives, several projects have come to fruition, such as the Islamic Heritage Interpretation Centre that has the following objectives:

  • To welcome and inform visitors, explaining Islamic heritage in a clear, attractive and “hands on” way;
  • To recommend walking routes in the historic centre and to teach how to “see” and “feel” the Arab-Islamic legacy;
  • To help to interpret and stimulate historical concepts in a simple way with recourse to modern communication/exhibition technology;
  • To add value and attract visitors and residents to the historic centre.

 In this way we want the legacy left by king Al-Mutamid to be shared between Silves, Seville and Marrakech. We also desire that in Silves places will “live” and function as a depository of memories of the passage of a politician/poet who left us a unique heritage that should be preserved, publicised and revived.

MUNICIPAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF SILVES

Inaugurated in 1990, the Municipal Archaeological Museum of Silves is constructed around a superb 12th/13th century Almohad well-cistern – discovered in the sequence of archaeological excavations carried out during the 1980’s. Listed as a National Monument, the well-cistern is the focal point of the Museum´s collection and of its expositive discourse. As a backdrop, the Museum incorporates one of the battlement walls of the city, also dating in the Almohad period. In consequence, the building is designed to function not only as a museum, exhibiting important collections, but also as a jewel of Islamic heritage in Portugal.

The artifacts displayed are, for the most part, the fruits of excavations carried out both within the city and around the county and comprise collections from the following epochs (set out in chronological order beginning with the most ancient): the Paleolithic period, the Neolithic period, the Chalcolitic (Copper Age), the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Roman Period and, outstanding not only through sheer quantity but also on account of their exceptional quality, pieces from the Medieval Era, with emphasis on the Muslim Periods – Umayyad, Caliphal, Taifa, Almoravid and Almohad, from the 8th century to the 13th century (most, in fact, originating from the Almohad Period during the 12th-13th centuries), which bear witness to the richness and importance of the city under Islam.

The collection also brings together an important collection of objects from the modern period – 15th , 16th and 17th centuries – demonstrating the influence of the trade routes and the significance of the city’s contact and exchange with other regions of the globe.

These texts are part of the work done by Silves town hall investigators and specialists, and were the content of an archaeological exhibition in the Silves Municipal Museum of Archaeology, that previously had been showing to the spanish public in Seville, 2000 (this last info to be confirmed)