Posted by: Audrey Thorstad | May 11, 2012

Lisbon: A Land of Moorish Castles

I have come to realize I am honestly bad at updating this blog, and even if I vow to update it more often it might not get done, especially with my transfer viva looming over my head. I have also decided to take a more ‘castley’ approaching to writing this blog. Hopefully, I will be able to discuss my castle trips on this blog and talk about what I found interesting, exciting, etc. I will firstly be discussing the two magnificent castles I went to in Portugal (Castle de São Jorge and rightly named Castelo dos Mouros [The Moorish Castle]).

St. George’s Castle, a formidable stronghold atop a steep slope in Lisbon, Portugal which has been a site of civilization since before the Romans, demands the presence and awe that any good castle does. The Christian Reconquista (or Reconquest) saw the capture (or recapture depending on who you ask) of the castle and city of Lisbon from the Moors. Once Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom in 1255 the castle was greatly renovated by King Denis I (shortly after c. 1300) to accommodate him as the royal palace. Unfortunately the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 immensely damaged the castle and eventually led to its degradation.

St. George’s Castle

So as you can see it’s on a fairly large hill and the walk up is quite a trek, but more than worth it when you to the top. And not just because there is a castle at the top, the views of the River Tagus and the city are to die for which is also probably the reason the castle is built there (one could see ships coming up the river for miles).The recent renovations done to the castle have improved its chances of being around for a while, unfortunately most of the outer wall is completely gone. However, the curtain walls surrounding a large courtyard, the later addition of the royal apartments and several towers are intact and have excellent crenellations (as seen above).

There is moat (I’m guessing a dry moat) inside with a barbican on the southern and eastern parts of the castle. If anyone knows what the long slits on the left of the picture could be please inform me. Richard and I could simply not figure them out. Another picture is below. I wish I had a picture from the inside of the wall, it’s actually a small hole on the inside of the wall (and there are not latrines). Below is an excellent picture of the barbican (with the weird long slits) and then behind it is the curtain wall and one of the ten towers.

The second castle we journeyed to was simply named The Moorish Castle, it was in Sintra, Portugal. Sadly, it has been left to ruin for quite some time and until very recently nothing has been done to save it. I do not joke when I say it was built on top of a small mountain (and would advise if you are planning on visiting to take the bus from the train station to the castle and NOT walking). The original stronghold was probably built in the 8th or 9th century by the Moors to protect the city below. However, just as the Castle of St. George was taken by the Christians so was The Moorish Castle (in 1154).

The outer wall was literally built on the side of a cliff and I can’t even imagine how they built it. The walls are not very thick (as you can see); however, the location is the main defence for the castle.

The stairs leading up to one of the many station towers around the perimeter wall. Below is a picture of the view of the city below and the wall snaking along the rough terrain flanked with towers.


Although both of these castles are quite different, in location, design and later use and ruin, both possess a sense of great pride and prestige (although it is hard to find a castle that does not possess those two virtues). Moreover, although Portugal is just starting its heritage, restoration and excavation programs the buildings seem to be in good hands. Castelo de São Jorge is located in the capital of a once world power force, with its clean walls, systematic layout and look out to the River Tagus would have been a force to reckon with. However, The Moorish Castle in its own way was just as powerful (if not more). The cliff sides would have been a daunting sight for any attempting invader. Not to mention the numerous towers and wall walk encircling the structure. There is not systematic plan because the builders (rightly) embraced the terrain instead of fight it. Hopefully in the years to come Portugal will clean it up and make strides to protect and restore both of these beautiful strongholds of their past.


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