The Castle of the Moors is one of the first thing you will see when raising your eyes in Sintra. It stands proudly above the town, guarding it, like it has for centuries. By day time and maybe even more at night, its curtain wall which hugs the hill and mingles with it, creates a scene of rare charms & beauty.
Together with the Palace of Pena, the Castle of the Moors is part of the landscape of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site sin 1995.
A tad bit of history
The Castle of the Moors or Mourish Castle was built between the 8th and 9th century, when most of Spain and Portugal were under Muslim control. It’s location at the top of the Sintra hill is the perfect spot to protect the surrounding area. As you will notice, the Atlantic ocean can be seen in the distance. Being able to see invaders coming from the sea, was an important feature for a military outpost like this one, with such a strategic defensive location.
Medieval times were times of pretty much constant wars: Vikings (yes Vikings!!), who were raiding and ransacking all European coastal sites, during the 9th and 10th centuries, attacked the region several times. The war between Christians and Muslim lasted centuries and the Sintra area often changed hand during these troubles times. In 1147, Afonso Henriques’ armies, the first Portuguese King, won the war against the Muslims and the Castle of the Moors surrendered voluntarily.
The Castle was thereafter completely renovated and under the management of the Knight Templars, it was give its current layout comes. The Castle kept its defensive purpose until the 15th century. After that it was gradually abandoned and felt into ruins. Time and various earthquakes and especially the one from 1755, left little more than a few ruins and piles of rubble.
In the 19th century, King Ferdinand II rebuilt the Castle of the Moors, at the same time he built the Pena Palace. This was the Romantic period when the focus was on reviving Gothic architecture and landscaping was about nature in its pristine state.
The Castle of the Moors felt partially into ruins again during the early 20th century but things were taken under control and major repair works undertaken in the80s and 90s. The Castle opened to public in 2013, which really isn’t that long ago.
The visit of the Castle of the Moors
There is something magical about visiting a Castle like this one. It is as much about what you see, than it is about what you can imagine. Imagine the life of the people who lived there, how they constructed such a place in such an environment, how their daily lives may have been. Each stone, each wall, each building has seen so much of history…. This Castle has seen wars, probably famines & plagues and yet it is now a place to relax and dream…
The first gate
The outer wall
The dead head is one of the additions of King Ferdinand II
It’s a bit hard to see but this is a tomb carved in the stone. The area filled by water is the body and the patch of grass and sand is where the head was resting. There is a whole area of tomb but this one was a bit separated from the others.
The entrance of the keep
View of the Royal Tower from the Keep
Another view of the Keep
The Pena Palace in the distance
Walking on the curtain wall
The vegetation at the Castle is diverse. Here you can see some deadly poisonous Digitalis.
The tiny betrayal gate or traitor’s gate. It was an escape route of last resort in case of conflict. But it also could allow the enemy to get inside the castle, hence it’s name.
As you can see, the weather changes quickly in Sintra due to the proximity to the Ocean which can be seen in the picture above.
View from the Royal Tower of the Keep. It is quite a climb to reach this tower but so worth it!!
The Royal tower from below
Euphorbia characins found on the way down
Reaching the old stables and the information center
The grain pits: Introduced by the Muslim population, these were used to store grains. The silos had to be sealed to remain cool, dry and bacteria free. The interior was lined with clay or straws.
The cistern, which seems to date from the 13th century (notice the ogive arch and tunnel vault) was a considerable advantage in case of siege.
More grain pits can be find outside
Saying farewell to the Castle…
The Technical bits:
The official website: www.parquesdesintra.pt
This is such a cool place to check out. It is probably best enjoyed with less people so try to avoid the crowd. This is also for safety reasons. The stairs are not that wide (although slightly more than in Obidos!) and not much would prevent you from falling from the curtain wall if pushed.
But quite frankly, it is refreshing to be able to walk around such an amazing and historical place freely and not be led throughout it between barriers or health & safety regulations!
If you haven’t check out my post on the Pena Palace, you should!!