Castles in Portugal
Castles in Portugal
Portugal is scattered with castles (castelo) and forts from the very north of the country to the Algarve in the south.
Portugal was fought over for long periods of its history, by Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Christians and then later by Spanish and French invaders. Castles were built throughout the ages to protect strategic towns and cities.
Many of Portugal's castles may have fallen into disrepair as the country has enjoyed a long period of peace since the expulsion of Napoleon's armies. Some have been restored, nearly all have spectacular views over the surrounding city scapes or countryside.
See a listing of some of the most spectacular castles and fortresses in Portugal in alphabetical order.
Alcoutim Castle (Castelo de Alcoutim) in Alcoutim is a 14th century Moorish castle which has spectacular views down over the river and a small archaeological museum (Núcleo Museológico de Arqueologia) at the main gates, which outlines the history of the castle including the battles that were fought at its walls. Taken from the Moors in the 13th century by Sancho II of Portugal (1209-1248), the castle's defences were strengthened during his reign and again by King Denis (1261-1325).
Aljezur Castle (Castelo de Aljezur) in small town of Aljezur in the western Algarve is believed to date from the Iron Age or even earlier during the Bronze Age, 3,000 years ago. Archaeological evidence reveals the site was used later by the Visigoths and Romans.
Aljezur Castle was occupied and renovated by the Moors in the 10th century at the same time as their occupation and construction of Silves Castle. Later the castle was fortified by the Christians after the town was retaken in 1249 by forces commanded by the Master of the Military Order of St. James, Paio Peres Correia, a general in the army of the Portuguese king, D. Afonso III. Aljezur was the last castle in the Algarve to be taken by the Christians. There is a tale of a Muslim maiden betraying the castle due to her love of a Christian knight - most likely untrue.
Almourol Castle (Castelo do Almourol) is one of Portugal's most spectacular castles, located on a small island in the River Tagus. When the original castle was retaken during the Reconquista in 1129, it was remodeled by Gualdim Pais, the leader of the Knights Templar in Portugal, who also built the equally spectacular Convento de Cristo in Tomar (see below).
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the 35m-high Belem Tower was designed by the military architect Francisco de Arruda between 1514 and 1520 as part of a defensive system at the mouth of the River Tagus. The fortress was named the Torre de Sao Vincente de Belem after the patron saint of Lisbon. The tower is Manueline in style with the customary motifs of armillary spheres, Templar crosses and thick ropes and also shows the Moorish influences on Arruda's design - he had built a number of forts in North Africa previously. Diogo de Boitaca, the initial chief architect of the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, is also thought to have participated in constructing the building.
Castelo de Belver
Belver Castle (Castelo de Belver) is one of Portugal's most beautiful castles and was built by the Order of the Hospitallers in the 12th century on the border between Christian and Islamic Portugal. Belver Castle has a rectangular keep circled by walled, crenellated parapets and overlooks the Tagus River.
Bragança's castle is part of the historic walled citadel (Cidadela) that sits atop a 680-metre-high hill in the town. It is believed that a fort may have stood here in Bragança during Roman and Moorish times though the castle we see today dates back to the 12th century with early 15th century additions by King João I. The Torre de Menagem (keep) is 33m tall and was occupied by the Portuguese military in to the 20th century. It now houses a Museu Militar (Miltary Museum) of which there are many throughout Portugal. On display is the usual assortment of suits of armour, cannons and swords as well as information on Portugal's colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique. There are wonderful views out over the surrounding countryside from the top floor of the museum.
Convento de Cristo
The Convento de Cristo in Tomar is part church, part castle, part monastery and the supreme example of Templar architecture in Portugal. Located on a hill above the town of Tomar, the historical site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site covers around 45 hectares and was founded in the 12th century by the Knights Templars.
Elvas' star-shaped walls were designed in the 16th century by the Flemish Jesuit engineer Cosmander, along with Correia Lucas and Nicolau de Langres, and the city is still entered through their impressive gates: the Olivença Gate in the south; the Esquina Gate in the west and the São Vincente Gate to the north. Elvas also has two outlying forts, the Forte de Graça to the north and the superb Forte de Santa Luzia (Tel: 268 628 357) to the south. There are great views from Santa Luzia and admission is free. Elvas' Castelo has been built on Roman and Moorish remains and for a small entrance fee, visitors can walk the battlements with a view out to Forte de Graça.
Evoramonte Castle (Castelo de Evoramonte) dates from the 14th century and then was enlarged in the Manueline style in the early 16th century. Its unique design encompasses four cylindrical towers. It was here that the Convention of Evoramonte was signed in 1834 ending a brief civil war in Portugal. The castle has superb views over the surrounding countryside.
Guimarães Castle (Castelo de Guimarães) in Guimarães dates from the 10th century and is thought to be the birthplace of Afonso Henriques, who became King Afonso I of Portugal. The castle was first built to defend the town and its monastery from attack by Moors and Normans. Guimarães Castle has a central keep (Torre de Menagem) and seven towers. Just outside the walls is the small chapel of São Miguel do Castelo.
Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, reconquered the Moorish castle for the Christians in 1135 that is set on the hilltop where Leiria now stands. This is around 6 km from an older settlement founded by the Romans called Colippo. Leiria Castle was, however, recaptured by the Moors in 1190. Two years later King Dom Sancho I finally retook it and rebuilt the walls. Leiria Castle has a pleasant garden within its walls and a ruined 12th century church, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Penha.
Lisbon Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) dates from the Moorish period and has wonderful views over the historic centre of the capital. The perimeters of the present Lisbon Castle were set out by the Moors. Legend has it that the castle was taken from the Moors in 1147, when a certain Martim Moniz, a Portuguese nobleman, threw his body in front of an open door during the bitter siege, to allow the invading Portuguese and Crusader army to storm the fortress.
Serpa Castle (Castelo de Serpa) in Serpa in the Alentejo region of Portugal was originally built by King Dinis after the Moors were finally expelled in 1232. The castle gradually fell into disrepair until it was classified as a National Monument in 1954, and restoration work began. The castle houses the Serpa Archaeology Museum.
Silves Castle (Castelo de Silves) in Silves in the Algarve may date from around the 8th century. First mention of a Moorish castle on the site was made by the historian and geographer al-Razi in the 10th century. Silves Castle stands on the summit of the hill rising up from the Arade River and views of the castle's battlements dominate the skyline of the town and surrounding countryside and are particularly pretty when the castle walls are illuminated at night. It is possible the castle we see today was built over an existing Roman or Visigoth fortress. Silves Castle was classified as a National Monument in 1910 and is one of the finest examples of an Islamic period castle in Portugal. Silves Castle and its environs plays host to the annual 10-day long Silves Medieval Fair in August.
Sintra - Castle of the Moors
The Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros) in Sintra outside Lisbon is an historic fort built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries. The castle was captured by Afonso Henriques (1109-1185) in 1147 and was no longer in use by the 15th century. Damage to the walls and the chapel on the site (Chapel of São Pedro de Penaferrim) occurred in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the site became a "romantic ruin" during the reign of Don Fernando II (1816-1885) in the 18th century.
Sintra - The National Palace of Pena
Pena Palace in Sintra is famous as Europe's most Romantic-style castle built in the mid-19th century when Romanticism was at its height. The king consort in the mid-19th century, Ferdinand II, a German by birth, was charmed and fascinated by a former chapel and ruins of the monastery on the site and set out rebuilding what had been the old monastery as a royal summer residence.
Tavira Castle (Castelo de Tavira) in Tavira in the Algarve is one of the town's most visited attractions and a pleasant place to wander to enjoy the garden at the top beneath its stone walls and fine views over the town and the Gilão River. The present castle has its origins in the 11th century though some kind of fortress has probably stood here since Phoenician times in the 8th century BCE.