Sunday, December 14, 2014

Visiting Portugal--the Algarve on the south coast

Portugal and Spain in October surprised me because dawn was at nearly 8 am. One consequence of that was that I was up to appreciate the sunrise.

sunrise off Portugal
sunrise off Portugal
I went ashore in the Algarve, the province that runs across the southern end of Portugal, to learn about the climate from the plants and about the history from the buildings.

 We visited the port of Portmão, and the towns of Alte and Silves. It was lovely-cool air, warm sunshine.
the Algarve, Portugal

The climate was clearly very mild: there were orange and lemon trees, huge vera aloes, and brilliant bouganvilleas. The citrus are originally from southeast Asia, vera aloe is native to the Mediterranean and bougainvillea is from South America, quite a multinational mix, but none of them tolerate of more than a touch of frost. 

orange tree
orange tree

vera aloe
vera aloe, more than 3' tall
spectacular bouganvillea
Above the modern town of Silves, high on a hill, were the remains of a fortress built in the 1100s by Moors who ruled the area. It was abandoned not long after they were expelled from Portugal in 1249. Recently archaeologists discovered that more has survived than just the few pieces of exposed stone. It is being excavated.

The fortress was allowed to crumble in place--minus a few stones hauled away to be used in local building projects--and blown dirt buried more of it, so it will probably restore rather well. 

I was particularly enchanted by a big cistern built by the Moors (about 1100 AD) to collect water from the region's sudden storms. That was not abandoned when the fortress was. It was too useful to neglect so it remained in use until 1953 when the town got a more modern water system.

cistern at Silves
Upper end of the cistern at Silves

Lower end of the cistern at Silves. 
The cistern had a large area to capture rain water. It sloped downhill from the edge of the wall and also to the east (which is toward to camera in both photos) so water moved toward the door. The door gave access to the pipes that carried the water to the village below the castle.

The castle wall was wide enough to walk easily around (though I had to watch for uneven stones). 
The views from the walls were grand:

view at Silves
Looking through the crenulations of the wall, wall to the right
view from the castle at Silves
View from the wall of the castle, Silves
In Alte, the roads were clearly older than modern car traffic.


The now-traditional bright blue trim on houses was originally applied because the color was believed to protect the inhabitants from the devil and his minions, I was told.

house in Alte, Portugal
House in Alte, Portugal
 The church over looking the town of Alte was originally built in the 13th century but much rebuilt after an earthquake in the 18th century. I thought it quite elegant.

church, Alta, Portugal
Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, Alte
 And around this history, modern Portugal:

Restaurant below the 11th century Moorish castle, Silves, Portugal

As everywhere in Iberia, cultures are layered atop each other. Political change and disuse, earthquakes and weather continuously alter the face of the landscape. Historical monuments are there to see but modern life carries on around and over them.

I liked the area a lot but could not linger. That is one of the downsides of traveling by ship ("going on a cruise"): a limited time in each port. What cruises do well is introduce you to an area or take you to islands or coastal towns that are off the beaten track. The Algarve--and Portugal generally--are well worth an extended trip.

Comments and corrections welcome.

My trip organized by Gohagan Travel and Cal Discoveries

Kathy Keeler

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