Castle of São Jorge

Castle of São Jorge

The Castle of São Jorge (English: Castle of Saint George; Portuguese pron. IPA2|kɐʃ'tɛlu dɨ sɐ̃ũ 'ʒɔɾʒ(ɨ)) is the Castle of Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, and is located in the highest hill of the historic centre of the city. It is one of the main historical and tourist sites of the city.



Although the first fortifications on the Lisbon hilltop are known to date only from the 2nd century BC, archaeological research has shown that human occupation exists there at least since the 6th century BC, originally from autochthonous Celtic and Iberian tribes (with probable Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian influences), afterwards Roman, Suebic, Visigothic and Moorish.

Middle Ages

In the context of the Christian Reconquista the castle and the city of Lisbon were retaken from the Moors by King Afonso Henriques with the help of Northern European crusaders taking part on the Second Crusade. The Siege of Lisbon, which took place in 1147, was the only success of that Crusade. According to a famous legend, the knight Martim Moniz, noting that one of the doors to the castle was opened, prevented the door from closing again with his own body, sacrificing his life but allowing the Christians to enter the castle.

The castle helped Lisbon to prevent further Moorish incursions in the end of the 12th century. As Lisbon became the capital of the Kingdom, in 1255, the castle became the seat of the Royal Palace (the "Alcáçova"), greatly renovated around 1300 by King Dinis I.

Between 1373 and 1375, a whole new city wall was built around Lisbon (the "Cerca Nova" or "Fernandina") by King Ferdinand I, from which some remnants are still left. This new city wall, which partially replaced the old Moorish walls and was designed to encircle previously unprotected parts of the city, had 77 towers and a perimeter of 5400 metres, and was built in only two years. The castle and city had to face and resist the Castilian army several times in the 14th century, in 1373 and 1383-4.

The castle was dedicated to Saint George in the late 14th century by King John I, who had married the English Princess Philippa of Lancaster. The warrior-saint, represented fighting the dragon, was popular in both countries.

From the 14th to the early 16th centuries, one of the towers (the "Torre de Ulisses" or "Torre Albarrã") of the castle housed the archive of the Kingdom. For that reason, the National Archive of Portugal is still called the "Torre do Tombo", that is, the "Tower of the Archive". Eminent chroniclers like Fernão Lopes and Damião de Góis worked here.

As Royal Palace, the castle was the setting for the reception of navigator Vasco da Gama, discoverer of the maritime route to India, by King Manuel I in 1498. Also in the castle the pioneering playwriter Gil Vicente staged, in 1502, his "Monólogo do Vaqueiro", to honour the birth of Manuel I's son and heir, the future John III.

Modern times

In the early 16th century, as Manuel I built a new Royal Palace by the Tagus river - the Ribeira Palace - the old mediaeval Lisbon Castle started losing importance. An earthquake in 1531 damaged the castle and only contributed to its further decay. In 1569, King Sebastian ordered the rebuilding of the Royal Palace in the castle to serve as his residence. Starting in the period of Spanish domination in 1580, the castle was used as barracks and prison.

The great 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the castle and contributed to its degradation. From 1780 to 1807, the charitable institution Casa Pia, dedicated to the education of poor children, was established in the citadel. In 1788 the first geodesic observatory in Portugal was assembled on one of the towers of the castle ("Torre do Observatório").

The castle's period of neglect ended in the 1940s, when an extensive renovation was undertaken. Most of the incongruous structures added to the castle compound in the preceding centuries were demolished. The castle then became a big tourist attraction, especially for the wonderful views of Lisbon that it offers.


The castle area is square-shaped and was originally completely encircled by a wall, forming a citadel. It consists of the castle proper (the "castelejo"), some buildings (including the ruins of the Royal Palace), gardens and a large square with terraces to observe Lisbon. The main entrance to the citadel is done through a 19th century gate with the coat-of-arms of Portugal, the name of Queen Maria II and the date, 1846. This gate gives access to the main square ("Praça D'Armas"), decorated with old cannons and a bronze statue of the conqueror of the castle, King Afonso Henriques. This statue is a copy of the 19th century original by Romantic sculptor António Soares dos Reis, located near Guimarães Castle.

The remnants of the Royal Palace are located near the main square, but all that is left are some walls and rebuilt rooms like the "Casa Ogival". It now hosts the "Olissipónia", a multimedia show about the history of Lisbon.

On the northwest side of the citadel area, on its highest point, is located the mediaeval castle. During a siege, if the attackers managed to enter the citadel, the castle was the last stronghold of resistance. It is rectangular in shape and has a total of ten towers. A wall with a tower divides the castle courtyard in two halves with a connecting door. A series of stairways allow visitors to reach the wall walk and towers, from which magnificent views of Lisbon can be enjoyed. The "Tower of Ulysses" (where the Torre do Tombo Archive used to be) now has a periscope that allow tourists to have a 360-degree view of the city.

Apart from its main walls, the castle is protected on its south and east sides by a barbican ("barbacã"), a low wall that prevented siege engines from approaching the main castle walls. The north and west sides of the castle, on the other hand, were naturally protected by the steep hillside. The castle is also partially encircled by a moat, now dry. The main entrance is done through a stone bridge. At the west side, there is a long curtain wall extending downhill and ending on a tower ("Torre de Couraça"). This tower served to control the valley below and could also be an escaping route in case the castle was taken by enemies.


* João Gouveia Monteiro & Maria Leonor Pontes. "Castelos Portugueses. Guias Temáticos IPPAR". 2002. (in Portuguese)
* [ General Bureau for National Buildings and Monuments (in Portuguese)]

External links

* [ View on Google Maps] - includes a short video.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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