Photo: Hilltop citadel - Lisbon's Castelo de São Jorge
What is it about a group of seven hills that makes them a magnet for a city to take root there? Rome, Amman, Barcelona, San Francisco, Prague, Istanbul - lots of others ... and Lisbon is one also. The historic heart of Lisbon is to found on these hills, and, with their steep narrow streets crammed with terra-cotta roofed buildings, they present something of a challenge to a visitor's lung capacity.
The hills rise up from narrow stretch of land along the Tejo River, the sector known as Baixa - the Lower Town. Whilst the best views are to be had from the heights of the hills (more of that later), it's also interesting to stand in the lower city and look up. Dominating the skyline to the east, the Castelo de São Jorge has stood guard over the city for hundreds of years, but long before this castle was built, the hill it stands on was the natural place to site the main defences of settlements here from the 2nd century BC and perhaps even earlier. Iberians, Romans and Visgoths all built their citadels here but the castle we see today was begun by the Moors and named the Alcáçova.
After some 400 years of Moorish rule, Crusaders captured the castle in 1147 and it finally became the seat of Christian power in the country in 1255 after which it was considerably enlarged and strengthened. King João I dedicated the castle to St George, the patron saint of England, in honour of his English queen in the 14th century. The castle was only home to the Portuguese kings for another 100 years before they moved to an altogether more comfortable palace befitting the monarchs of a powerful seafaring nation.
Centuries of use as a prison and barracks followed until restorations and the creation of lovely gardens in the second half of the 20th century saw a once grim bastion become a favourite place for locals and tourist to visit and relax. With spectacular views from the shady terraces - and occasional peeks into private hillside gardens, walltop walkways and towers, a couple of historical displays and even a small and picturesque residential area (Santa Cruz) right at the entrance, allow at least a half a day to visit the castle and surrounding area.
Within the castle precinct, there's a cafe serving coffee and the ubiquitous pasteis de nata as well as substantial Portuguese dishes for lunch at olive- and pine-tree- shaded tables. Even getting up there is fun - the famous No 28 tram will take you within a short walk via the streets of Santa Cruz.
Be sure to nod to São Jorge in his glass case as you pass through into the castle.
Although Castelo de Sao Jorge was made the official residence of Portugese Royalty in 1147, it lost that honour in 1511 when King Manuel I built something more fitting in today's busy tourist area of the Baixa. For many years, the old castle served variously as a military base, arms depot and theatre.
However, the great earthquake of 1755 totally destroyed its walls and towers, along with much more of the city. It was not until 1938 that the present version of the castle was restored, during the long dictatorship of Antonio Salazar.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge, located in the ancient Alfama district, dominates Lisbon's eastern skyline. No wonder, this is where it all began when the Moors made this their prime defensive position over 1000-years ago and the beginnings of Lisbon sprang up around its walls. With the Portugese conquest of the city in 1147, King Afonso Henriques made alterations so it would be suitable as the residence of Portugese Kings for centuries to come.
The Moorish influence still remains in the houses and narrow, twisting steets that cover the hillside. On our walk up here, we had no idea where we were really going in the maze and somehow ended up circling the walls of the Castle before we found its Porta de Sao Jorge gate! This is a great area in which to spend some time enjoying a very old part of Lisbon!
Another great sunny day as we continued our walk along the Tejo in Belem. Not far from the Monument to the Discoveries, is the age-old landmark of Lisbon - the Tower of Belem.
Originally set much further out in the Tejo, the reclaimation of land along the north bank of the river for roads and buildings has almost attached this former island fortress to land! This fortress was built by King Manuel I in 1515-21 to provide naval protection for the city. It also came to be known as the point of departure for many sailing expeditions that uncovered the far corners of the globe for the Portugese Empire.
Linked to the mainland by a short elevated walkway, it is possible to tour this building to enjoy its great architecture and the views from topside. When you are finished, there is a nice grassy park beside it where you can relax under some shady trees like we did!
Lisbon's Castelo de Sao Jorge (Saint George Castle) used to be the seat of the royals until the late 15th century.
Due to its location on one of Lisbon's hills the ancient castle with its towers and nice gardens is a popular tourist excursion.
Spectacular views of the city and the river Tejo can be enjoyed on a walk along the well-preserved ramparts.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge is perched on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills, so it can't be missed. Take tram #28 to Miradouro de Santa Luzia and then follow the signs uphill.
Castelo de S. Jorge is a 12th century castle built on top of the hill and very close to the city's center.
It was expanded by the moors on the site of a 5th century visigothic fortification, that had later fallen into Saracen domination in the 8th century. In 1147 it was conquered by D. Afonso Henriques (Portugal's first king) and was used as a royal castle even before Lisbon became the capital of the country.
It is an extraordinary site and the view from the top is amazing. It is definetly a place not to be missed
Within its walls are you can find the most traditional portuguese trees (cork and olive) and you will have the chance to see the peacocks, swans, turkeys and other animals. I was told there also is a very rare white peacock on the grounds, but I have never seen it myself.
Open daily from 9.00 to 21.00 (Apr-Sept) and 9.00 to 18.00 (Oct-Mar) and admission is free.
It can be reached by bus (37) or tram (12 and 28).
Additional information from www.castelos.org:
"The Castelo de Sao Jorge (St. George's Castle), the name comes from the time of King Joao I ( late 14 century) Before it was known simply as Lisbon Castle.
It consist of the former citadel of Alcazar, 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. If we go though Portao Sul (the south gate) which leads to Rua de Santa Cruz do Costelo, we enter the old Praca de Armas.
After a short period of splendor in the reign of King Sebastiao, who hat it restores and went to live there, the royal palace on the site of the castelo fell into complete neglect during the reign of the Spanish kings and was used as a barrack and later as a prison.
The building was severely damages by the 1755 earthquake.
In 1910 the building was declared a National Monument and restoration work began."
Right on the busiest, most touristic street in downtown Lisbon called Ruas Portas de San Antao, just above Rossio square, the same street lined by restaurants with those big fish tanks and glass windows with fish and seafood display and where you bump into restaurant callers left and right, is a haven, an oasis of quiet and beauty -- my favorite place to escape the noise the bustle of the streets outside.
With an unprespossessing facade, even bordering on shabby, it's almost hard to believe that this humble structure used to be a small palace. But the moment you're inside, it's easy to see that the interior of this building is still easily one of the most beautiful in all of Lisbon even today. As one goes up the short flight of steps and steps into the vestibule, one is welcomed into a Moorish-inspired entrance hall, and up the stairs, the walls are decorated by tiles and around these areas are Moroccan furniture. The rooms and halls are sumptious and beautifully decorated, recalling the charmed life of Lisbon's aristocrats in centuries past, and their social life -- there is a Hall of Mirrors and the gameroom. Though the furnishings are starting to become old and torn, and it feels a bit dark and musty inside, with the old big sofas in the lounge and some dusty corners, one can still appreciate the stunning wall and ceiling decorations. Two rooms, now a restaurant, are fully covered with glazed tiles, one room with tiles from the original 17th century, and the other room from the early 20th century. The Hall of Mirrors is lavish, with wonderful ceilings and chandeliers, and high windows. The walls of one room is decorated with tiles showing scenes from Alentejo rural and farm life.
This palace was built in the late 17th century and belonged to the viscounts of Alverca. In the early 20th century, the house was leased to a company that converted the building into the first casino of Lisbon - the Majestic Club. In 1928, the Casino closed, and in 1932, was leased to the Alentejo Regional Association. Today it is called Casa do Alentejo.
There is a restaurant inside, as well as a small bar. One can have a taste of Alentejo regional cuisine here, the bar is a simple even untidy affair. On the first floor is a small store selling Alentejo delicacies and specialties, and the hall below holds exhibits from time to time. Information about the Alentejo region can be had in the leaflets and information material also found in one corner of this floor.
The first impression you'll see, when reaching the city of Lisbon will be the castle. It is enthroned on a hill and it is an eye catcher wherever you are.
Inside you can wander around shady, romantic places, but there is nothing too spectacular: There are some ancient excavations, some old cannons will stand at the side and you can even walk along the balustrades of the centuries years old fort. The best thing is the astonishing view of the town from there, making Castelo de São Jorge to one of the most beautiful miradouros of Lisbon.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge (Saint George Castle) is a mark of the Portugal?s history, having been in the hands of Romans, Suevians, Visigoths and Muslims.
It was rebuilt in the 1940s and has recently been renovated.
Within the castle, you can view multimedia presentations or just walking around the walls, towers and gardens.
In summer there are frequent festivals in the castle grounds. There is also a small restaurant open at summer only.
> Transport: Tram 12 or 28; bus 37.
> Opening hours: Daily 09:00-21:00 (Apr-Sep); daily 09:00-18:00 (Oct-Mar).
> Admission: Free.
Saint George's Castle can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. Its oldest parts date from the 6th century, when it was fortified by the Romans, Visigoths, and eventually the Moors. It served as a Moorish royal residence until Portugal's first king Afonso Henriques captured it in 1147 with the help of northern European crusaders on their way to the Holy Land. It was then dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, commemorating the Anglo-Portuguese pact dating from 1371, and became the royal palace until another one (that was destroyed in the Great Earthquake) was built in today's Comercio Square.
It is now an oasis of peace, but just past the main gate is a statue of King Afonso Henriques and a series of cannons, reminders of the castle's original purpose. What remains of the Alcaçovas Palace where medieval kings lived, is a stone building now housing a restaurant, and round the back, an excellent multimedia exhibit on Lisbon's history called Olissiponia. This show in three underground chambers (including the one where Vasco da Gama was once received by King Manuel) is named after Roman Lisbon, and uses images projected on a 3m(10ft) wall with narration offering an overview of the city's history. It includes a simulation of the 1755 earthquake that depicts, among other things, the collapse of Carmo Church and the tidal wave in Lisbon harbor, and goes through all the historical periods, from the Inquisition to Salazar's regime.
Most of the castle was destroyed over the years, especially in the Great Earthquake, but still includes a long extension of walls and 18 towers. Visitors can climb the towers and walk along the ramparts for the most breathtaking views of the city, or relax in the gardens where peacocks, geese and ducks strut around.
One of the castle's inner towers, the Tower of Ulysses, holds the Câmara Escura, a periscope that projects sights from around the city.
1 Nov - 28 de Feb 9h00 às 17h30
1 March - 31 Oct 9h00 às 20h30
Lisbon’s castle sits on the hill to the east of the city centre in the Alfama district, and dominates the skyline. There were fortifications on this site from as early as the 2nd century BC, but most of what you see dates from the 10th and 11th centuries. Badly damaged by the earthquakes of 1531 and 1755, the castle fell into neglect. Much restoration was carried out in the 1940’s, and what remains today is remarkably well-preserved as a result. You can walk right round the walls of the citadel and climb some of the towers for spectacular views over the city. There is however, little to see inside the castle itself, although there is a multimedia presentation and an exhibition in one of the buildings within the outer walls, as well as a cafeteria.
There is a very comprehensive website (with an English version) that has all the information that you could possibly want to know about the castle, its history and visitor details.
Entrance to the castle used to be free, but nowadays there is a charge of 5 euros (October 2007). Tickets are available from the ticket office close to the entrance. Opening hours are 9am – 9pm in summer (March to October) and 9am to 6pm in winter (November to February).
To get to the castle, take the number 12 or 28 tram, and follow the signs up the hill. There is also a No 37 bus that runs from Praca da Figueira to the castle.
Only a block west of Terreiro do Paço, there's a small and interesting square.
City Hall a palace from the 18Th century, several times destroyed and reconstructed (last time after the fire of 1996) dominates the area, but a large and strange modern sculpture in the facing side brakes the classical look added by the court building, and the 18Th century pillory, in the middle of the square.
At left, the cathedral peeps in the background.
Origanaly there was an Iron age settlement on the site and then the area was occupied by the Romans around 205bc
In the 5th century aCastle was built here by the Visigoths, it was then reinforced and enlarged by the Moors during the 9th century, It was captured by The First king of Portugal King Afonso Henriques in 1147 with part of the castle being converted into a royal palace in 1300 with Portugals Royal family living there untill 1511
The Earthquake of 1755 almost destroyed the walls and buildings but they were rebuilt between 1938 - 1944
It offers a spectacular view of Lisbon and Tagus River.
There is a multimedia exhibition depicting Lisbon’s history.
Open every day from 9.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m
Built in 1523 by a Portuguese businessman impressed and inspired by Italian architecture, this odd house has nothing in common with traditional Portuguese architecture, but it is one of the most surprising buildings that survived the earthquake.
Halfway from Terreiro do Paço and Alfama, it is easily seen (and the outside is the only thing you may see).
This magnificent castle above Lisbon is a great location to enjoy views over the city. From the castle, you can see across the city and pick out all the famous landmarks. I spent a lot of time here just taking photos and enjoying the views.
The castle of Sao Jorge was built back in the 11th century by the Moors. Following Dom Afonso Henriques' conquering of Lisbon, the castle became home to Portuguese royalty. By the 13th century, the Moorish buildings had been enlarged to accommodate their royal occupiers. Following the great Lisbon earthquake of 1755, much of the castle was destroyed, however, the ruins of the Royal Palace have since been renovated and now house the castle museum and restaurant. While visiting the castle, be sure to take a look at the small museum which exhibits items found in the castle grounds, many which date back to the Moorish period.
The castle is open from 9am till 9pm between March and October and 9am to 6pm between November and February. There is an admission charge for entry and you must validate your ticket at the barriers to enter the main grounds of the castle.