Albufeira is a small cliff-side town, overlooking the beach. Once a sleepy fishing village. Now the center for tourists, artists, folklore, music, and dance. Besides that, it is an attractive small village, which has retained distinct Moorish character. Some of the old charm is still to be found in the labyrinth of narrow streets, lined with whitewashed houses, appartments, cafes and shops, which lead down the hillside to the central square. A good place to sit and watch the world go by. A tunnel through a huge rock connects beach and town. You can still see the fishermen bringing in their catch on the Praia dos Barcos (Fishermen's Beach). At night you can see the lanterns on the fishermen's boats. We were surprised by the large number of pubs, serving cheap English breakfasts and offering to help you get rid of yesterday's hangover.
Prince Henry the Navigator
Sagres & Cape St Vincent - once thought to be the End of the World, Cape St Vincent lies at the most southwesterly tip of Portugal. It is a very windswept spot but actually one of the best places to see wild flowers in the Algarve. From the lighthouse you can see the tankers rounding the Cape and the fishermen who balance precariously on the side of the cliffs waiting to catch sardines and tuna.
Sagres is where once navigators thought that land ended, and the ocean dropped off into nothingness, the end of the known world. Here was also Prince Henry the Navigator looked out over the sea and wondered if there was a route to the Indies.
Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460) played a major role for 15th century navigators by his leadership in solving problems of transoceanic voyaging. He was a great warrior, who was knighted for his role in the capture of Ceuta (North Africa), he was also a great teacher, a nautical and astronomical specialist, and a brilliant organizer and sponsor of oceanic exploration. He assembled the best mathematicians, cartographers, shipbuilders, astronomers, mariners and chroniclers in the world and brought them to his School of Navigation in Sagres. Here on this surf pounding steep cliffs, on the southwestern tip of Portugal, he organized these Portuguese mariners so that they gained the necessary knowledge to explore the World.
School of Navigation
One day we took a drive out to Prince Henry's windswept cliff top School of Navigation. We went together with Jette and Bjarne and Jette's father, whom we just happened to meet, when renting a car. We spent several days together, driving around the Algarve coast line. In the evenings they taught us to play Balut. After having returned to Denmark, we have begun playing Balut regularly with our friends and neighbours - a great game.
Not much is left as Prince Henry knew it, but what is left is impressive. The 16th century fortress of Sagres has been partially reconstructed, a museum has been built and the ruins of an old sailor's chapel are there. Inside, a compass marked on the ground from Prince Henry's time is visible. This observatory gave the Portuguese the base for the exploration of the West Coast of Africa and other places in the vast unknown world. There is also a lighthouse on the cliffs' edge. Looking over the cliffs you are presented with an awesome view of the waves, whipped by the wind and rocks below.
Many people associate the Algarve only with the beaches, but there are many wonderful little towns and villages located just a few miles inland. Silves is one of these towns, located in the Barlavento of the Algarve, between the mountains and the coast, located to the north and east of Portimão. Silves is at the heart of one of Portugal's best citrus growing areas. It also has factories processing cork. Huge piles of cork were seen along the roads. But most visitors do come because of its history. The town's two most outstanding buildings are the red sandstone castle and the red and white cathedral next to it. In medieval times this was the most strongly fortified place in the Algarve.
The Romans had a settlement at Silves. But it was the Moors who turned the town into a prosperous town with gleaming minarets and bazaars. In 1189 Portuguese Christian forces, aided by thousands of English, German and Flemish Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land, attacked and liberated the town and the castle from the Moors.
The siege lasted six weeks and ended with an agreement by the Moors to surrender, if they were allowed to leave for the city of Seville, bringing with them their belongings. To the Kings horror the Crusaders, all mercenaries, killed and stripped the departing Moors of everything of value.
The following year, England's Richard the Lionheart helped defend Silves from a counter-attack by the Moors. The following year after a month-long siege by the Moors, the town again fell into the hands of the Moors. It was not until 1231 before the castle finally capitulated to the Christian forces of Afonso III, whose statue stands, sword in hand, just inside the castle gates today. The reconquest of Silves was celebrated by the building of a cathedral on the site of a mosque. It still contains the tombs of some of the Crusaders, who died there.