Country of conquests and warriors, Portugal has all over its territory dozens of ancient castles, real fortresses for defense and combat. Each castle has its own history, his own “soul”. There are 152 castles in Portugal, according to a study carried out by the Direccao-Geral dos Edificios e Monumentos Nacionais, which concluded that some 85 of them are national monuments, 50 are considered of public interest and the rest of municipal value. It’s no surprise, when most of us think that Portugal was a country of battles and war, of conquest of the moors, of maritime expansion, of the discovery of new worlds. In the touristic region of Lisboa alone, including the capital and the area that surrounds it, you can find dozens of imposing castles and other fortifications, the majority of them open to the public and deserving of a leisurely visit. From the fantastic Castelo de S.Jorge, in Lisboa, where you can see the most impressive view of the Tejo that the Gods could devise, to the Castelo dos Mouros, in Sintra, where Lord Byron looked whenever he sought inspiration, passing through as well the Castelo de Sesimbra, over the infinite Atlantic.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge
We start with one of the most significant castles in the whole region – The Castelo de S. Jorge, name of this fortress comes from the ancient time of King Joao I (late 14th century), before castle was known as simply – Castelo de Lisboa (Lisbon Castle). Conquered from the moors by the first king of Portugal, D. Afonso Henriques, in 1147, the Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from the 10th – 11th centuries, even though the city was already fortified from Roman times. The castle is located in the Alfama district, on the very steep Sao Jorge hill, occupies an area about 6 000 square meters. The building served as a theatre, a prison, and a munitions store, until it was badly damaged by the great earthquake in 1775. In the 1930s the prime minister, Antonio Salazer, decided the castle should be restored. Within the rebuilt walls are gardens, a restaurant, and numerous domesticated fowl. The castle consist of twelve gateways (seven of which lead to the parish of Santa Cruz do Castelo), the battlements and wall of Barbeca (Barbican) and eighteen towers (eleven of which belong to the fortress, and one, Torre de Sao Lourenco, is linked to the battlements by a long stairway. The main tower in the middle of the southern wall, the strongest and the biggest, is the Torre de Ulisses; on the sunrise southern side is the Torre do Observatorio, called that as it was Lisboa’s first astronomical observatory (1779).