Welcome to Part 4 of my series of photographs (and travel tips) from my three week trip to Portugal (with my daughter Miranda) back in December 2022 – January 2023. And yeah, I know – it’s taken me a while to finally post the photographs (it’s May!) but going through several thousand photographs while still trying to run your business wasn’t easy. Besides, these posts are just in time for those folks still looking to decide where to go on vacation this summer. Portugal should be on your list.
My first post in this series featured images from our visit to the Belém District in Lisbon and two of Portugal’s most visited attractions, the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites). My second post was for the art lovers, Lisbon’s engrossing contemporary and modern art museum, Museu Coleção Berardo. Our visit to one of the worlds most captivating castles, Pena Palace in Sintra (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), made up the third post in this series; and today’s post features our visit to the medieval Castelo dos Mouros (Moors Castle), part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The millennium-old Moorish Castle, founded under Islamic rule, occupied a then strategic position for defending both the surrounding territory and the maritime access routes to the city of Lisbon. The artefacts found on this site identify how, in between the walls and their adjoining areas, there lived a population in an area now named the Islamic Quarter. The Moors lived here through to 1147, when Sintra was handed over to Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, following the conquest of the cities of Lisbon and Santarém.
With the settlement of a Christian population in the Moorish Castle, the Islamic Quarter began to disappear and give way to a Medieval town with its occupation ongoing through to the 15th century. At that time, the site was steadily subject to abandonment given that, with the conflicts between the Moors and Christians long over, the population no longer felt the need to seek shelter within the vicinity of the fortification.
Already into the 19th century, and in keeping with the Romantic spirit prevailing in that period, King Ferdinand II undertook restoration work on the castle, breathing new life into the medieval imaginary surrounding this site. The castle has been undergoing archaeological excavation ever since 1976 and has returned countless discoveries as regards the history of this site and its many inhabitants.
In 1995, UNESCO classified the Sintra Cultural Landscape as World Heritage with the Moorish Castle representing a fundamental component. In 2000, Parques de Sintra took over the management of this national monument leading to a series of refurbishment and improvement works, including the 2009 establishment of an Archaeological Research Field in order to deepen and convey knowledge about the human occupations of the castle, its phases of construction and living quarters.
The Moorish Castle is now a very popular tourist attraction, and is usually visited together with Pena Palace. Both monuments are connected by a bus but are also within walking distance (it was cold and drizzly, we took the bus). It’s a hell of a walk even with the bus (you’re gonna need a pair of really good hiking shoes). You can lose yourself on the grounds of the castle for hours. The views, however, plus the fact that you’re walking on ground that dates back to the 10th century(!) made our visit well worth it.