São Jorge Castle is a historic castle in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, located in the freguesia of Santa Maria Maior. Human occupation of the castle hill dates to at least the 8th century BC while the first fortifications built date from the 1st century BC. The hill on which São Jorge Castle stands has played an important part in the history of Lisbon, having served as the location of fortifications occupied successively by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors, before its conquest by the Portuguese in the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. Since the 12th century, the castle has variously served as a royal palace, a military barracks, home of the Torre do Tombo National Archive, and now as a national monument and museum.
Over time, the castle, as well as the various military structures in Lisbon, was being remodeled, to the point that in the first half of the 20th century it was in an advanced state of ruin. In the 1940s, monumental reconstruction works were undertaken, with a large part of the walls being raised and many of the towers being raised. For this reason, contrary to what one might think at first sight, the “medieval character” of this military complex is due to this reconstruction campaign, and not to the preservation of the castle’s space from the Middle Ages to the present day.
It rises in a dominant position on the highest hill in the historic center, providing visitors with one of the most beautiful views of the city and the Tagus river estuary.
Although the first fortifications on this hilltop date from the 1st century BC, archaeological excavations have identified a human presence in the Tagus valley as far back as the 8th century BC. The first fortification was, presumably, erected in 48 BC, when Lisbon was classified as a Roman municipality.
The hill was first used by indigenous Celtic tribes, then by Phoenicians, followed by Greeks and later the Carthaginians as a defensive outpost that was later expropriated successively by the Romans, the Suebi, the Visigoths, and the Moors. During the 10th century, the fortifications were rebuilt by Muslim Berber forces; these included the walls or Cerca Moura (“Moorish Encirclement”).
The primitive human presence in the area dates back to the Iron Age, and archaeological research has brought to light testimonies since at least the 6th century BC, successively by Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians. Historical information, however, begins only in the context of the conquest of Hispania by the Roman legions, when it was called Olisipo. It served, from 139 BC onwards, as the base of the operations of the Consul Tenth Junio Bruto Galaico, against the nuclei of Lusitanos dispersed after the murder of their leader,Viriato, when it is admitted that here, for this reason, there had been some kind of defensive structure. Subsequently, in 60 BC, when the then Propretor Caio Júlio César concluded the definitive conquest of Lusitânia, he granted the village the title of Felicidade Júlia (Felicitas Julia), allowing its inhabitants the privilege of Roman citizenship.
Faced with the invasions of the Empire by the barbarians, to which the Peninsula was not immune, the city was conquered by the Suevi under the command of Maldras, in the middle of the 5th century, and, a few years later, by the Visigoths under the command of Eurico, coming to become definitely Visigoda under Leovigildo’s reign.
Later, in the 8th century, it would fall under Muslim rule, changing its name to Al-Ushbuna or Lissabona. The descriptions of its geographers refer to the existence of the fortification with its walls, which defended the “quasabah” (alcáçova), the center of the political and military power of the city. The so-called “Cerca Moura” was built in the late Roman period, having been rebuilt and expanded during the Islamic period.
In the context of the Christian Reconquest of the Peninsula, its ownership fluctuated in the wake of Christian attacks, which collimated it as a target on the banks of the Tagus River. Thus, it was initially conquered by Afonso II of Asturias, in a counter-offensive in 796. At that time the city was sacked and Christian forces, too distant from their base in the region of Entre-Douro-e-Minho, immediately withdrew. The same success was repeated in the reign of Ordonho III de Leão, under the command of this sovereign, and the city suffered severe damage.
Member of the Taifa domains of Badajoz, at the dawn of the 12th century, facing the threat posed by the forces of Iúçufe ibne Taxufine, who, coming from North Africa, had passed to the Peninsula aiming at the conquest and reunification of the Almorávida domains, the governor of Badajoz, Mutavaquil, delivered it, together with Santarém and Sintra, in the spring of 1093, to King Afonso VI de Leão and Castile, aiming at a defensive alliance that was not sustained. Involved in the defense of his own territories, the Christian sovereign was unable to assist the Moorish ruler, whose territories fell, in the following year, in front of the invaders. In this way, Lisbon, Santarém and Sintra would remain Muslim dominions, now under the Almoravids.
The fortification, in this period, was constituted by the Alcáçova of approximately quadrangular plan with about 60 meters of side, in dominant position in the top of the hill, defended by walls with approximately 200 meters of width. From this nucleus, whose perimeter corresponds roughly to the limits of the current parish of Castelo, the walls surrounding the village descended to the river, reinforced by towers and where the doors were torn down to the river.
The medieval castle
In the context of the Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, after the conquest of Santarém, the forces of D. Afonso Henriques (1112-1185), with the help of Norman, Flemish, German and English crusaders who were heading to the Holy Land, invested against this Muslim fortification, which capitulated after a hard three-month siege (1147), as narrated in the manuscript ” De expugnatione Lyxbonensi “, a letter written by an English crusader who took part in the conquest. A legend that emerged later says that knight Martim Moniz, who had stood out during the siege, when he noticed one of the castle’s doors ajar, sacrificed his own life by interposing his own body in the gap, preventing its closure by the Moors and allowing the companions to access and win.
As a gift of gratitude, the castle, now a Christian, was placed under the invocation of the martyr Saint George, to whom many crusaders dedicated devotion. On the day of the conquest, October 25, today is “Army Day”, an institution that, in the country, has São Jorge as its patron.
A few decades later, between 1179 and 1183, the castle successfully resisted the Muslim forces that devastated the region between Lisbon and Santarém.
From the 13th century onwards, Lisbon being the capital of the kingdom (1255), the castle reached its peak, when it was, besides Paço Real, the so-called Paço da Alcáçova, palace of bishops, home of nobles of the Court and fortification military. The earthquakes that affected the city in 1290, 1344 and 1356, caused damage to it. On the military plane, he mobilized in the face of the Castilian siege of February and March 1373, when the outskirts of the capital were plundered and set on fire. That year, D. Fernando’s wall (1367-1383) began, completed two years later and extending to Baixa. At3rd fernandine war the outskirts of the city were again the target of Castilian attacks, in March 1382
On January 26, 1383, the castle was handed over to the Count of Barcelos, João Afonso Telo, by its mayor, Martim Afonso Valente.
During the 1383-1385 crisis, Lisbon would be harassed by the forces of D. João I of Castela in 1384.
In the functions of Paço Real, it hosted the reception of Vasco da Gama, after the discovery of the sea route to India, at the end of the 15th century, and of the debut, in the 16th century, of Monologue do Vaqueiro, by Gil Vicente, first play of Portuguese theater, commemorating the birth of D. João III (1521-1557).
From the War of Restoration to the present day
Together with the city, the castle suffered again from the earthquakes of 1531, 1551, 1597 and 1699. Its history as Paço Real ended with its move, still in the 16th century to Paço da Ribeira. From then on, its facilities were used as quartering. At the time of the Philippine Dynasty it was again garrisoned, having been used as a prison.
In the context of the Restoration of Independence, its Mayor, Martim Afonso Valente, honoring the oath of allegiance to those who had paid tribute, only handed over the square to the Restauradores after receiving instructions from Margarida de Saboia, Duchess of Mantua, until then vice-queen of Portugal, who ordered him to surrender (1640).
The move of the royal residence to the riverside, the installation of barracks and the 1755 earthquake contributed to the monument’s decline and degradation. It was the headquarters of Casa Pia from 1780 to 1807, when it was used as Headquarters by Jean-Andoche Junot. Thus, uncharacterized and, in part, banned from Lisbon, it reached the 20th century.
Classified as National Monument by Decree of 16 of June of 1910, underwent major restoration work in the 1940s and late 1990s, which had the merit of rehabilitating the monument, recovering his medieval traces. It is currently one of the most visited places by tourists in the city of Lisbon. In 2000 and 2009, two elevator connection projects between Castelo and Baixa were considered by the City Council.
The monument also offers the gardens and viewpoints (especially the Praça de Armas with the statue of D. Afonso Henriques), the castle, the citadel and the terrace, a dark room (Torre de Ulisses, former Torre do Tombo), space exhibition hall, meeting / reception room (Casa do Governador) and thematic store to its visitors.
Entry to the castle is free for residents of the municipality of Lisbon. For the remaining visitors it costs 10 euros.
The castle defends the old Islamic citadel, the Alcazar, opening on its battlemented walls twelve gates, seven of which are on the side of the parish of Santa Cruz do Castelo. To the outside, a wall cloth gives access to a barbican tower. Eighteen towers provide support and reinforcement to the walls. Through the South Gate, through Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo, access to the Plaza de Armas.
The castle is in the centre of Lisbon, on a hill, while many of its walls extend around the citadel into the civil parishes that surround it to the east and south.
The castle’s plan is roughly square, and it was originally encircled by a wall, to form a citadel. The castle complex consists of the castle itself (the castelejo), some ancillary buildings (including the ruins of the royal palace), gardens, and a large terraced square from which an impressive panorama of Lisbon is visible. The main entrance to the citadel is a 19th-century gate surmounted by the coat-of-arms of Portugal, the name of Queen Maria II, and the date 1846. This gate permits access to the main square (Praça d’Armas), which is decorated with old cannons and a bronze statue of Afonso Henriques, the Portuguese monarch who took the castle from the Moors. This statue is a copy of the 19th-century original, by the romantic sculptor António Soares dos Reis, which is located near Guimarães Castle in northern Portugal.
The remnants of the royal palace are located near the main square, but all that is left are some walls and a few rebuilt rooms such as the Casa Ogival. It now hosts the Olissipónia, a multimedia show about the history of Lisbon.
The medieval castle is located toward the northwest corner of the citadel, at its highest point. Hypothetically, during a siege, if attackers managed to enter the citadel, the castle was the last stronghold, the last place in which to take refuge. It is rectangular, with ten towers. A wall with a tower and a connecting door divides the castle courtyard into halves. A series of stairways allow visitors to reach the walkway atop the wall and the towers, from which magnificent views of Lisbon can be enjoyed. The Tower of Ulysses (where the Torre do Tombo archive used to be) had in 1998 a camera obscura installed that allows spectators a 360-degree view of the city and Tagus River.
Apart from its main walls, the castle is protected, on its southern and eastern sides, by a barbican (barbacã), a low wall that prevented siege engines from approaching the main castle walls. The northern and western sides of the castle, on the other hand, were naturally protected by the steep hillside sloping downward from the castle’s foundations. The castle is also partially encircled by a moat, now dry. The main entrance is fronted by a stone bridge across the moat. On the west side, there is a long curtain wall extending downhill, ending at a tower (the Torre De Couraça). This tower served to control the valley below, and it could also be used to escape, in case the castle was taken by enemies.
Tower of the Message
It is the most important tower in a castle, the most robust, being prepared to withstand a close attack, thus serving as a privileged command post. It was in this tower that the royal standard was raised, symbol of the vassalage of the mayor or the governor to the king who had entrusted the castle to him to maintain and defend it. In the 18th century, Lisbon’s first geodesic observatory was installed in this tower.
Tower of Haver or Tower of Tombo
Also called the Ulysses Tower since the 18th century, the royal treasure (the product of royal taxes and rents) was kept there, and, since the reign of D. Fernando (1367-1383), the royal archive, being here that the most important documents of the kingdom fell down, adopting, therefore, the designation of Torre do Tombo, which still today designates the main archive of Portugal. The royal archive worked in this tower, in the Torre do Paço and in some dependencies of the Paço Real contiguous to the castle until the earthquake of 1755. Since 1998, the Câmara Escura has been installed in this tower, a device that allows you to thoroughly explore views of Lisbon.
Tower Of Paço
Thus designated because it is close to the old Royal Palace, to which it is likely to be linked. In the 15th century, in the reign of D. Afonso V, the African, it was contiguous to a wing of the Palace known as “Casa dos Leões”, thus designated for guarding two lions. In the middle of the 16th century, it also became part of the Royal Archives.
So designated by having a rainwater collection and storage compartment – the cistern.
Tower of São Lourenço
Located at half slope and connected to the castle by a breastplate, a characteristic element of peninsular military architecture from Islamic times, it guaranteed safe access to a well located outside the castle, usually at the base of the tower, or guaranteed quick communication with the outside, in the event of a siege, allowing the escape or entry of reinforcements or supplies.
Explore the remains of the 11th century Islamic quarter at the Archaeological Site, discover unprecedented views of the city in Câmara Escura, stroll through the gardens and viewpoint, take a break at Café do Castelo, participate in guided tours or other educational activities, enchanted by music, theater, dance and heritage gatherings that liven up the days at this remarkable Lisbon Monument.
The darkroom, optical system of lenses and mirrors, allows you to observe in detail the city in real time, its most emblematic monuments and areas, the river and the bustle of Lisbon, in a 360º look.
From an Islamic era, built in the middle of the 11th century, the fortification is located in the most difficult area to access from the top of the hill, taking advantage of the natural escarpments in the North and West. The castle had the function of hosting the military garrison and, in case of siege, the elites who lived in the alcáçova (the citadel). It did not have a residence function like other castles in Europe. It also preserves 11 towers, including the Torre de Menagem, Torre do Haver or Tombo, Torre do Paço, Torre da Cisterna and Torre de São Lourenço, located at half slope. In the second square there are still traces of old buildings and a cistern. Also in this atrium, on the North wall, there is a small door called the Door of Betrayal, which allowed secret messengers to enter or exit if necessary.
Garden of native species of the Portuguese forest
The garden-landscape of Castelo de S. Jorge is today the only green space in Lisbon where the main indigenous species of the Portuguese forest dominate, and are observable, such as cork oaks, zambujeiros, carob trees, arbutus, stone pines and some trees. fruit in memory of the old garden of Paço Real da Alcáçova.
Due to its exceptional location, the Castelo de S. Jorge stands out from the set of viewpoints in Lisbon for the unique and majestic views that it allows to enjoy.
Castle of S. Jorge
Open to the public 7 days a week, Castelo de S. Jorge is today a place where you can enjoy the heritage, get to know a little about the history of Lisbon at the Núcleo Museológico, explore the remains of the Islamic quarter of the 11th century at the Núcleo Arqueológico, discover unprecedented views of the city in Câmara Escura, stroll through the gardens and viewpoint, take a break at Café do Castelo, participate in guided tours or other educational activities or simply let yourself be enchanted by music, theater, dance and heritage gatherings that liven up the days at this remarkable Lisbon Monument.
Set of archaeological remains that testify three significant periods in the history of Lisbon: (1) the first known occupations that date back to the 7th century BC; (2) the remains of the Islamic-era residential area, of the castle’s construction period, from the mid-11th century; (3) the ruins of the last palace residence in the old alcáçova, destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.
Visitable collection consisting of a collection of objects found in the archaeological area (Archaeological Center), providing the discovery of multiple cultures and experiences that from the 7th century BC to the 18th century contributed to the construction of Lisbon today, with particular emphasis on the period of the 11th-12th century.
Traces of the Old Royal Palace of Alcáçova
The entire set of buildings where the Núcleo Museológico, Café do Castelo and the Casa do Leão restaurant are today constitutes the most significant memory of the former medieval royal residence. Also in the Jardim Romântico area and on the terraces it is possible to see some architectural elements that integrated the former royal residence. The royal palace was largely destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. The illustration of the reception of the Núcleo Museológico, reproduction of a 16th century drawing, is the most expressive testimony of what was the Royal Palace, and the city of Lisbon, before the earthquake.