Like many famous cities in Europe, Lisbon’s roots are centuries old. But few proofs of that are so evident here as that of Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon’s Saint George’s Castle.
First begun in the 6th century by late Romans, it bears a strong stamp of the Moors who inhabited the region after the Visigoths. Conquering the site in the 8th century, the Saracens performed much of the construction on the castle.
With the capture of Lisbon from the Moors in 1147, King Afonso Henriques transformed the hilltop citadel into the residence of Portuguese kings. As the royal palace of several of Portugal’s monarchs, Castelo Sao Jorge’s form grew during the 12th-14th centuries. It served as the centre of government for Portugal during the period, gaining the name Saint George’s after King Juan I of Portugal took an English princess as a bride.
After the ‘new’ Royal Ribeira Palace was built by King Manuel I in the early 16th century, St. George’s Castle began to decay. A 1531 earthquake hastened that process. Though much of the castle was destroyed by another earthquake in 1755, what remains is still an outstanding window into the past.
The current entrance is through a 19th century gate sporting the coat of arms of Queen Maria 11th, dated 1846. Once through it one can see a number of interesting cannons and a fine bronze statue of King Alfonso Henriques. Part of the remaining structure is the Ogival House, once part of a 17th century jail.
As with many designs of the period, the grounds housed a castle surrounded by a large defensive wall. From this high perch one can look out onto the outstanding terraces and gardens. On the northwest side there is a series of walkways that lead to the highpoint of the visit: the medieval towers.
One of the inner one’s, the Tower of Ulysses, contains a periscope and projector that displays spectacular views of the surrounding area onto the walls of the Interpretation Centre inside. Even with the naked eye, though, walking along the ramparts on a hill high above this port city provides a look at the beautiful scenery that is modern Lisbon.
Castelo de Sao Jorge, Lisbon
Renovations during the 1940s have helped restore the site to a status that allows visitors to see the grounds safely. Those who do won’t be disappointed.
Numerous ducks and geese and swans paddle lazily along the moat. Wandering among the flocks of birds who call the hilltop home, one can see much of Lisbon, both historic and modern. The peacocks provide a view of beauty close up, while the River Tagus, the 25th of Abril Bridge and other sights of Lisbon beckon below.
Saint George’s Castle is located near the Alfama district and is easy to reach by tram or taxi. Food and drinks are available either at the snack stand or the restaurants outside where the tables provide a fine view.