Salir is one of the most important mountainous areas in Loulé, home to a lot of history and proud of its stories that not only mix Arabs and Christians, but which go a long way back, when this area was bathed by a lost ocean. As a place of great geological interest, it boasts the imposing rocky massif of Rocha da Pena, which is a protected area. Salir is also within a UNESCO aspiring Geopark territory: the algarvensis Geopark.
Salir is a parish belonging to the Municipality of Loulé, with 187,75 sq. kms and 2458 inhabitants (National Statistics 2021). To the north, it borders the Parish of Ameixial and the villages of Santa Cruz and São Barnabé. To the east, it faces with São Brás de Alportel, Cachopo e Querença, with Alte to the west. And to the south, it borders with the Parish of São Sebastião, also from the Municipality of Loulé.
LANDSCAPE AND NATURAL CHARACTERISTICS
There is evidence of human occupation dating back thousands of years, more specifically to the Neolithic (polished stone period) and Chalcolithic periods, during the first half of the 3rd millennium BC, immediately before the Copper and Bronze Ages. In the National Museum of Archaeology there is an engraved schist plate found in Salir dating from that same period (book Loulé, Territórios, Memórias, Identidades, P. 53).
Estácio da Veiga, a notable Portuguese archaeologist (1828-1891), guarantees that the human presence in Salir dates back at least to the Neolithic, in an article that he published in the book As Antiguidades Monumentaes do Algarve: «We therefore have, from the Santo Estevão mine, in the Municipality of Silves, as far as Vendinha do Esteval, in Loulé, and always towards the east, an extended region, measuring in a straight line, between the mentioned points, about 35 kilometres, marked by so many groups of Neolithic population, as many as the mines with prehistoric works.»
In Salir, several archaeological remains from different periods have been discovered due to excavations, since the 19th century.
ROCHA DA PENA CLASSIFIED SITE
Rocha da Pena, a limestone-type rock formation 479 meters high, is one of the highest points in the central Algarve, located in the parishes of Salir and Benafim. Due to its biodiversity, in 1991 the area was certified as a classified site, covering an area of 637 hectares. The rocky landscape that characterizes this protected area is called karst and features several time-shaped structures, more specifically due to the chemical erosion caused by rainfall. The water slowly dilutes the stones, transforming limestone into calcium bicarbonate and then dragging it, creating holes as millions of years go by.
It’s a unique place in the Algarve, due to its faunal and floristic diversity. The south and north sides are quite different, in terms of species. It holds close to 30 endemisms. One is from the Algarve, three are European, six are Lusitanian and 19 are Iberian. Species such as the Peony or Marioila (Pholimis purpurea) can be found here, along with the Spanish heath and the Japanese cheesewood (Pittosporum tobira).
Regarding local fauna, we can find badgers, mongooses, foxes, hedgehogs, hares and wild rabbits, along with the Common bent-wing bat and the Lesser mouse-eared bat, very sensitive species that should not be disturbed in their shelters. Some amphibians, such as newts and salamanders, breed in small waterways. There is also the occasional presence of Bonelli’s eagle, Common buzzard, Long-eared owl, the Eurasian eagle-owl, the Common kestrel and the Kite.
THE REMAINS OF THE METOPOSAURUS ALGARVENSIS
POÇO DOS MOUROS CAVE
It is perhaps the biggest cave in the Algarve, not accessible to the public. The entrance is protected due to the risk of landslides and to the existence of colonies of several protected species of bats. Poço dos Mouros (The Moors Pit) – a name that as mentioned above may be explained by the Arabs taking refuge there during the Christian conquest of the Castle of Salir – is located at an altitude of 455 meters, in Rocha da Pena. The first explorer to describe them was Charles Bonnet, a French naturalist, who visited the cave in 1850. «Bats abound in this cavity, their droppings form a layer of more than 60 centimetres thick», he described. «The width, considering its curves, should be close to 220 meters; calculating the different inclinations and slopes, I believe it may have a vertical depth below the entrance close to 28.60 meters», he added.
NAVE DO BARÃO
(THE BARON’S TABLE LAND)
THE CASTLE OF SALIR
The Castle of Salir, of Islamic military architecture, is of Almohad construction. Built in rammed earth without an alcáçova, it has an oval floor plan along the relief of the hill. With late Islamic origins, built at a time of intense Christian military pressure, it was part of the Almohad network of castles in the Algarve. Salir strategically fit into the rural defensive network, a line of fortifications that combined the castles with a series of alcarias (small villages) in the barrocal area, also working as an outpost towards the inlands. Most of what formed the old Castle of Salir is now in ruins: there are only four towers remaining, although relatively well preserved. In what still stands of the Castle, there are traces of houses built in the 12th and 13th centuries, with silos excavated in the rock, part of the ancient streets and ancient plumbing, as well as a narrow walkway or adarve between the wall and some of the dwellings.
In order to preserve and enhance this monument, the Loulé Municipality created the Museum of Salir in 2002, where one can find several pieces, collected during different archaeological excavations.
MOTHER CHURCH OF SALIR
The hermitage of São Sebastião de Salir – or of Sam Sebastião de Sellyr – was a Gothic building, with a chancel and a body with three naves and three bays, with pointed arches resting on masonry columns. The building, although smaller than it is today, already existed in 1518, when the Ordem de Sant’iago visited the churches of Loulé. The reports refer to the existence of an interesting golden silver chalice with an image of São Sebastião at the base, offered by King D. Manuel I. Many of the religious monuments in the south of the country belonged, at the time, to this order led by D. Jorge, Master of Avis and Santiago, son of D. João II. The Order of Sant’iago and its knights, based in Uclés, Castile, Spain, played a fundamental role in supporting the Christian conquest of the Algarve and obtained considerable income from this region.
Dedicated to São Sebastião, considered in the Middle Ages a protector of the plagues and contagious evils, the church did not resist the earthquake of 1755: the building completely collapsed, destroying the chancel. The Christian temple was reconstructed with only one nave and chancel, both rectangular. Subsequently, new earthquakes in 1856 and 1969 led to further reconstructions de-characterizing the building. Later, a fire in 1995 forced the reconstruction of the roof, once again. Currently, the main points of interest are the carvings from the Baroque period on the main altar and in two altarpieces, and the image of S. Sebastião, dating from the 17th century. Also, the church still keeps a 16th century parchment from Rome, written by Cardinal João. The document was decorated by a painter from Faro, in 1550.
HERMITAGE OF NOSSA SENHORA DO PÉ DA CRUZ
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
NAVE DO BARÃO
(THE BARON’S TABLE LAND)
The Nave do Barão is a completely closed valley, surrounded by hills, which is why it was given the name “nave” – a pre-Roman term that means “plain surrounded by mountains”. It has a very united agricultural community, working on the vineyards and creating homemade high-quality wine. Nave do Barão also has a great environmental value, because of the habitats of several amphibian species.
PENA ENVIRONMENTAL CENTRE
Located next to the small village of Pena, on the southern slope of Rocha da Pena, the Environmental Centre of Pena is dedicated to environmental education, integrated development, as well as to the enhancement of the cultural and environmental heritage of the Municipality of Loulé.
Operating in the old primary school in the village of Pena since 1992, it is the result of a protocol established between the Municipality of Loulé and the Almargem Association – Association for the Defence of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of the Algarve.
LOULÉ ARCHAEOLOGY INTERPRETATIVE CENTER
QUINTA DO FREIXO
With an area of around 800 hectares, Quinta do Freixo is probably the largest agricultural estate in the Algarve. It is dedicated to agriculture, livestock, transformation and rural tourism. It is an artisanal centre for the production of jams, cheeses and branded spirits, certified as organic producer, and it is a preferred place to experience the flavours of the region. Their products can also be found in most regional product stores.
FESTIVALS AND RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES
Salir is prodigal in festivals and ceremonies. In February, the festivities of São Sebastião and São Luís are held. In spring, 40 days after Easter, it’s time for the traditional Festa da Espiga. In June, the Festa Popular – Folk Festival, in Cortelha, takes place. Salir do Tempo – Festival of Medieval Arts arrives in July. On the first weekend of August, the Folklore Festival of Serra do Caldeirão and Manjares Serranos happens in Cortelha. Also in Cortelha, but in September, the Festa da Filhó takes place. Throughout the year, there is the traditional Mercadinho da Horta on the 1st Sunday of each month.