Medieval Moorish Castle in Sintra
The Castle of the Moors is a medieval structure built on top of a picturesque hill overlooking Sintra in Portugal. The fortress was conquered by the Christians from the Moors and during the Reconquista (return of Portuguese lands) was a strategically important site. Despite the fact that today the castle looks more like a ruin, it retains an incredible atmosphere of former times, the grandeur and power of the castle. The Moorish castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The view from the castle walls is truly royal, and many tourists visit the site for that. From here you can see the entire city of Sintra, the expanse of ocean, valleys covered with greenery and the castle of Mafra.
View of the castle from the Royal Tower
In the 8th century A.D. the territory of the modern Iberian Peninsula came under Muslim domination. In the very west, they built a defensive fortress and founded a small settlement. The place for the construction of the building was extremely well chosen. The castle walls were an observation point from which the main land and sea routes linking Sintra with Lisbon, Mafra and Cascais were controlled.
At the foot of the hill were fertile lands. The rocks surrounding the castle formed a natural defence and made the fortress almost invulnerable to the enemy. Its area was 12,000 square meters, and the length of the walls on the perimeter was 450 meters.
In the 12th century there were power struggles among the Moors, and Portugal’s King Afonso Henriques took advantage of this when he successfully reclaimed the palace in Lisbon, after which the Moors abandoned Sintra.
One legend has it that the Moors did not expect such an onslaught from the Crusaders and, hoping to regain their land, surrendered the castle at Sintra without a fight and left the treasure in the cave. Historians believe the legend may well be a true historical fact because the hill of Sintra has hollows that stretch under the entire mountain range and out to the sea. It is likely that the Moors used these passages to get out of the castle undetected.
The Portuguese fortified the structure and built a chapel. An armed detachment of soldiers consisting of 30 men was permanently stationed within the fortress. The king expected the return of the Moors and used the castle as an observation point. The main task of the garrison was to inform the troops in Lisbon of the approaching enemy.
In the 13th century Sintra was often visited by members of the royal family, but royalty preferred to stay in the more luxurious national palace. The Moorish castle was too ascetic and simple for them.
Gradually the Moorish fortress fell into disrepair and stood abandoned for several centuries. Natural disasters hastened the resolution – lightning struck the vault of the castle. Then in 1755 there was an earthquake that destroyed the fortification.
Romanticism came into vogue in the 19th century, at which time the restoration of the Moors Castle in Sintra began in earnest. The Portuguese monarch Fernando II began the grandiose construction of the palace and the Pena Park. To do this, he bought up all the land in the surrounding area, including the Moors’ castle, paying just over 200 reais for everything. The king was a romantic, which accompanied the transformation of the castle: stone walls were rebuilt, trees were planted and paths were ennobled.
Please note! The castle is located on a hill, so it is often windy here, take warm clothes for a walk.
The Moors Castle Today
The Castle Wall today
Already in the mid-20th century the fortress was completely cleaned up and restored. Archaeological excavations were carried out and ancient burials were discovered. When the issue of preserving the relic of national importance arose, the authorities developed a special project, which provided for the reconstruction of the structure. The atmosphere of the castle is truly fascinating, takes you back in time and makes you forget about reality.
Now on the territory of the castle there is a cafe, an information center for tourists, toilets. Particular attention has been paid to the safety of tourists – walkways and stairs are aligned, protective handrails and curbs are installed.
Moorish castle consists of two parts:
- The castle itself;
- system of fortifications, which are located next to the structure.
First, tourists pass through the gates. To the fortress leads a winding path that stretches among the greenery. The ancient walls are decorated with slightly frightening symbols, not far from there are the ruins of a church built in the 12th century.
The most picturesque and beautiful wall of the castle stretches from the Royal Tower. It carries a green flag with the Arabic inscription of Sintra.
All the towers of the castle have flags flying on them in a certain sequence, from the first national flag to the last one in use today.
Interesting fact! The red flag was the symbol of the country in the 15th century and was later replaced by a white flag by the reigning monarch. In 1834, the colors of the national flag were blue and white, then came the modern version of the banner that exists today.
View of the Palace of Pena
Monarch Fernando II often climbed the Royal Tower, he admired the scenery and liked to paint. In the distance you can see the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other side is the unique architecture of the striking Pena Palace.
Near the entrance is the small chapel of San Pedro. On the wall at the south end of the chapel is an entrance in the shape of an arch, decorated with columns and decorated with plant ornaments and sculptures of fabulous animals.
To visit the Château des Moors in Portugal is daily from 10-00 to 18-00, an hour before closing time the doors of the attraction are closed. Weekends are December 25 and January 1.
- adult – 8 euros;
- For children (from 6 to 17 years) – 6,50 euros;
- For seniors (over 65 years) €6.50;
- Family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) 26 Euro.
- For children under 6 years old admission is free.
The official website of the attraction is www.parquesdesintra.pt. Here you can specify the information you need and buy tickets online.
The prices on the page are for January 2020.
- Take bus no. 434 – the stop is next to Sintra train station;
- by train from the Portuguese capital from Oriente, Entrecampos or Rossio railway stations to Sintra, then you can walk to the castle or take a cab;
- by foot – from the center of Sintra there are two signposted walking routes – one is 1770 meters long, the second is 2410 meters long;
- By car – from the capital of Portugal take road IC9, then from the center of Sintra follow the signs. GPS coordinates: 38º 47′ 24.25″ N 9º 23′ 21.47″ W
- The climb to the castle is not the easiest, so if you are not physically prepared, it is better to rent a cab or a tuk-tuk. You’ll need your strength for sightseeing, too. And don’t forget comfortable shoes.
- On the territory you can buy water and have a snack in the cafe.
- To visit the castle, it is better to choose a sunny day without fog. It will be uncomfortable and dangerous to walk on wet stones, and the views are much better in clear weather.
The Castle of the Moors is definitely a must-see attraction in Sintra, Portugal. The panoramic view from the walls of the structure is breathtaking. The history of the castle is over a thousand years old and you can touch it.
What else to see in Sintra – see in this video.
Author: Julia Matyuhina
Updated: 2 Jan, 2020 Santa Barbara Fortress in Alicante is one of the main…
Updated: 14 Nov, 2019 Tossa de Mar, Spain is an old resort town in Catalonia,…
Updated: 10 Jul, 2019 Bamberg, Germany – an old German town on the coast of…
Updated: 27 Apr, 2021 Chillon Castle is the most famous landmark not only…
The Castle of the Moors
Not far from the city of Sintra is a place with a unique atmosphere and breathtaking scenery that recalls medieval paintings. It is the Castle of the Moors, once majestic and impregnable. Most of it is now a ruin but it also preserves the history and legends of the mysterious Moorish castle of Sintra.
Description of the Moorish Castle
The Moorish castle is situated on a high hill. This choice to build the castle structure was originally made for practical reasons. It offers a panoramic view of the terrain. No enemy could approach the fortress unnoticed. Now every tourist visiting the Moorish castle in Sintra can enjoy an unbelievable view of the surrounding area from the top of the hill. View of the old town, plains with different shades of green, mountains, blue ocean…. Such pictures evoke rapture and create a love for Portugal. Tourists come to this place not only for a walk through ancient ruins, but also for the views from the hill. The Moorish castle of Sintra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which confirms its importance as an architectural structure, a historical monument, a cultural asset of the country.
An ancient castle on the coast of the ocean was built by the Muslims, who in the 8th century AD conquered the Iberian Peninsula. The place for the construction was chosen thoughtfully and successfully. There is an all-round view of the area from the hill. What is important for a construction, serving as a shelter, a place of observation. From the height of the walls of the Moorish castle in Sintra it was possible to control both land and sea routes. The latter were no less important to Portuguese life, the port of Sintra was linked to the capital, to other cities in the country. The castle is surrounded by cliffs, the difficult landscape is an added advantage for its security. The perimeter of the castle was erected high walls, the length of which is up to 450 meters, and inside there is a large area with an area of 12 thousand square meters.
The Portuguese crown inherited the Castle of the Moors in the 12th century because the Moors themselves were not reconciled and were constantly fighting for power. The King of Portugal took advantage of that fact, gaining not only the castle but also a rich palace in the capital. The crusaders, who came up to the castle walls, did not have to fight particularly, the Moors left without a fight.
The Treasure of the Moors is one of the legends of the castle at Sintra
This period in the life of the castle is surrounded by numerous legends. According to one of them, along with the castle, the Moors were forced to leave their treasure in the local caves. They did not return for it, and now many hunters are trying in vain to find the priceless treasure. Even if the legend has a real basis, finding the treasure will be difficult. Under the castle, in the rocks, there are quite a few hollows connected by underground passages. It is believed that the Moors, fleeing from the Crusaders, passed through these passages and left the treasure somewhere underground.
When the Moors abandoned the castle they had built, the Portuguese decided to take advantage of such a powerful and secure structure. The walls were strengthened and other work was done to increase security. The king did not forget that the Moors could return to the Iberian Peninsula at any moment. Therefore, he kept an eye on the security of the area and placed a garrison of his soldiers in the castle. The royal family did not pamper the castle with their presence. It was too simple and ascetic for such persons.
As time passed, the Moors ceased to pose a threat to the Portuguese land. In conjunction with this, the importance of such a fortress structure as the Moorish castle near Sintra was also diminishing. It was left unattended, gradually deteriorating. An earthquake in the middle of the 18th century only completed its destruction. But the story of the fortress did not end there, it was in for another revival.
The Romanticism of the 19th century also touched this fascinating structure. Fernando II, King of Portugal at the time, had the idea of rebuilding the fortress, enlivening it with a beautiful park. Roads were paved and many picturesque plants were planted in and around the castle. As a result, the fortification, albeit ruined, turned into a beautiful, romantic place that preserves the history of the country. Locals and tourists love to stroll here, but they do not always listen attentively to a lecture on the historical fate of the fortress and the surrounding area. They prefer leisurely walks along the castle walls, the park, contemplating the beautiful local scenery, the opportunity to plunge into the atmosphere of the Middle Ages.
Today’s Moorish Castle
The Castelo dos Mouros (another name for Castelo dos Mouros), which has survived until the 20th century, rises steadily above the town, and much has been done to strengthen the walls and landscape the area. Specialists developed a comprehensive reconstruction project, which involved not only technical issues. It was important to preserve the unique atmosphere of the Middle Ages, because it is a valuable part of the country’s history. The city of Sintra is a popular tourist destination, and acquaintance with it necessarily includes an excursion to the castle fortress. There are necessary safety measures for walking around the castle, on its walls, there are secure rails. Tourists can get information in the tourist center, working on site. There is also a cozy cafe for vacationers and several toilets on site.
By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82656782
During the tour you can see the entire castle, get acquainted with its system of fortifications. To enter the territory, you have to pass the ancient stone gate, not far from which there is a ruined ancient chapel. A visit to the Royal Tower, above which the flag with the name of the city of Sintra in Arabic is proudly flying, leaves a great impression. The Royal Tower was singled out by Fernando II who, like today’s tourists, was impressed with the view from the walls and windows. The line of Portuguese flags over the fortification, from the very first to the present, looks spectacular. Such a parade of banners is another illustration of the country’s history, as is the fate of the Moorish castle.
What to see
- Excavations have been and are being conducted on the grounds, and many of the artifacts discovered are on display in the castle exhibit. Near the gate is a unique structure – an underground cistern made of granite blocks to store water supplies. Another unusual sight is containers in the stones for storing grain. All this is a vivid picture of the life of cities in the Middle Ages.
- Tourists can walk not only on the inner territory, but also on the walls, the length of which is about 450 meters. The preserved walls are in excellent condition and illustrate the great skill of the builders who could create (without modern machinery) such a powerful structure on a high mountain.
By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82656760
How to get to the Moors’ Castle
The Castle of the Moors is located near Sintra. All the main routes to it involve arriving in town.
- You can get to the castle on bus 434, which stops next to the Sintra train station.
- There are trains from Lisbon to the train station from several stations (Rossio, Orient).
- From Sintra you can walk to the castle on foot, taking one of the walking routes. (One is about 1.8 km long, the other about 2.4 km). The routes are guided by signs.
- From Lisbon you can also take the IC9 freeway to Sintra, then follow the signs on foot or by car or cab.
You can visit the Moorish castle and admire the beautiful view of the surrounding countryside, Sintra and the ocean from the hill every day, the entrance is only on December 25 and January 1.
Mode of operation – from 9.30 to 20.00. You only need to watch the time, at 19.00 the gates of the castle will be closed for entry. Up-to-date information about opening hours and costs can be found on the official website at https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/plan-your-visit-en/opening-times-and-prices/.
- 8 euros for an adult.
- 6.5 euros for a child and an elderly person (over 65 years).
- 26 euros for a family ticket which allows 2 adults and 2 children to enter the grounds.
Why visit the Castelo dos Mouros
By Vitor Oliveira from Torres Vedras, PORTUGAL – Castelo dos Mouros – Sintra (Portugal), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=627469
The castle walls offer a stunning panoramic view of Sintra, the ocean, and the vast green hills and plains. The vast area is visible from a bird’s eye view. It is interesting to observe the life of the city and its surroundings. Even the ruins of the castle give an idea of how powerful, reliable it was in medieval times. The area where the castle is located admires the beauty and romantic mood. It is worth flying to Sintra for 2-3 days as a honeymoon destination. Walk around the fortress, climb the hill. Not too many tourists here, no one disturbing the atmosphere of calm, peacefulness.