The origin of this town traces back to some 1.000 BC and it was already a notable place in Roman times. During the Moorish occupation in the early 11th Century it was given the name of Xelb. They constructed lavish palaces and it became the cultural centre of learning for the whole Iberian Peninsula under the mantle of Cordoba in Spain. In 1189 it had already 15.000 inhabitants, when the city was sacked by the Knights of Santiago with support of Anglo-Norman crusaders. The importance of Silves continued under the control of the Portuguese kings until the 15th Century, when its commerce began to shrink due to the sitting-up of the Rio Arcade, Silves access to the sea.
The earthquake of 1755 destroyed most of the town and its historic buildings. The remains of the Moorish castle are still impressive, and the huge underground water reservoir is still used by the city today. An archaeological museum has been constructed above this cistern showing local objects including items from the Stone Age. The Ponte Romana, a stone bridge over the Rio Arcade was rebuilt in the 15th Century from the original erected during the Roman occupation. On the site of a Mosque the Cathedral was built in the 13th Century and suffered significant alteration over the time.
The tumulus city of yesterday is today a quiet market town surrounded by the largest orange growing area in Portugal. Cork is processed locally. North to the fertile valleys is an area of attractive forest covered hills leading to the mountains of Monchique. The dams of Arade and Foz are well worth visiting for the beauty of their natural setting.