Sao Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal

You are staring at the Sao Jorge castle when you realize you had just wake up in Lisbon.

Your feet on cobbled sidewalks that cannot hide the work involved in its construction.

Stone cubes, laboriously placed one by one, side by side, each edge measuring no more than three fingers.

These cubes are separated from each other by a kind of compact sand.

The sand has a double role, unites the stone cubes, and let the water seep through to the subsoil. Ingenious thing, don’t you think?

Those stones are light in color, without being white, and often you see drawings of caravels, waves, or geometric shapes made with darker stones.

Here and there, you can find different stone colors like dark pink or even a certain kind of blue.

Looking around, you can see not to modern buildings. Still, they are not medieval, here the 18th-century architecture is well represented.

Take a good look at the short horizon and follow the outline up. Your eyes will stop at the Castle, this magnificent structure protecting the city.
Its the Sao Jorge castle.

The Castle of São Jorge is one of the monuments that will hold your attention when visiting Lisbon.

At the top of one of the several Lisbon hills, it is impossible to miss the Castle.

If it worth it for you to face the long lines to visit it, it is a different matter.

Is it worth the visit?

A famous Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, wrote: everything is worthwhile if the soul is not small.

As I do not have, nor shadow of such mastery of writing, I will say it depends on your personal interests and available time.

I already had the opportunity to write about that question in another article.

If your interests fall on urban art and you only have two days to visit Lisbon, you will be able to find better options than the Castle.

Anyway, if you choose to visit the Castle, consider using the services of a guide as it can add value to your visit.

There is much more in the Castle of São Jorge than meets the eye.

Without a guide, you will see a medieval castle with a beautiful view over Lisbon and the Tagus river.

Maybe you will study a little before the visit or take one of the famous tourist books with you and find out the Castle was conquered by our first king, D. Afonso Henriques, in 1147. That is also fine.

With guiding services, in addition to helping you to interpret the impressive view over Lisbon and the Tagus River, you can learn about hundreds of years of this monument’s existence.

Sieges, earthquakes, massif building works, and so many other fabulous events.

I can’t write the Castle’s history here, it would be a too large text for this context, I’m not a historian, and there are good books on the subject.

Also, not only the history books are good reading before we go to visit a site.

Some novels can help us to paint imaginary images in your imagination, adding value to our tourist visits.

Perhaps a suitable picture, in this case, could be one from the time when the Castle was conquered to the Moors. If so, I suggest you read the book History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago.

To give you an idea of the Castle’s importance in the history of the city, and also of the diversity of war situations that happened here, I choose to list a set of these moments.

By choosing these moments, I do not mean there were no other important moments. There were.

This chronological list intention is to give you an overall idea of the importance of this monument in Lisbon‘s context.

Roman Period (BC)

    • 138 – The Roman Decimus Junius Brutus conquers the area to be called Olisipo (Lisbon). Also known as Felicitas Julia. There he found a fortification built by the Celtiberian people who lived there. The Romans improved this fortification.
    • Post-Roman period, Barbarian and later Christian occupations (DC)
    • 411 to 418 – Occupation of Alans without significant problems.
    • 418 to 453 – Visigoths conquered the city at the service of the Roman empire. The Alans retire to North Africa.
    • 457 – Suevi conquered the town after several struggles and following a succession of contradictory alliances with the Roman empire.
    • 460 – Visigoths, with their King Theodoric II, conquered Olissipo again, at the behest of Emperor Avito.
    • 469 – The Suevi, with King Remismundo, conquered Olissipo again.
      Somewhere during the 5th-century, the town starts to be called Ulixbuna or Ulixbona.
    • 585 – The Visigoth King Visigodo Leovigildo imposes himself.
    • 6 ?? – Construction of a new fortification wall (15 hectares / 37 acres) and first Christian churches.

Muslim occupation

    • 714/719 – Abd al Aziz Muça’s Muslim army takes over the city, and the name changes to Ulisbona, Al-Lishbuna, Aschbouna, or Al-Ushbuna, and the Muslim occupation begins.
    • 798 – Afonso II (Christian) sacks the town.
    • 800 (beginning) – Confused period.
    • 844- Vikings attack with more than 100 ships, they sieged the Castle for 10 days, they destroyed some walls and plundered the environs.
    • 857 – New Viking attack but turned to be unsuccessful, of which not many records remained.
    • 966 – Third Viking attack with about 30 ships. A great resistance from the Muslim troops made the Vikings retreat. On their return, the Viking fleet was attacked and defeated near Silves (Algarve, south), where they were expected by Muslim troops near the force of the Arade River mouth.
    • Somehow the name of the city evolves to Lisipona, Lisibona, Lisbona, Lixboa.
    • 956 – Ordonho III, king of Leon, plunders Lisbon and destroys part of the walls.
    • 1015/1093 – City domination alternately by the Moorish taifa’s of Badajoz and Seville.
    • 1060 – King Fernando Magno of Leon conquers Lisbon for a short period.
    • 1109 – Lisbon passes to the hands of Sir, son if Abu Becre, who had already conquered the city before. This time the city will experience a long period of stability until 1147.

Christian occupation

    • 1147 – Conquest of the Castle by D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal.
    • 1384 – King Juan I of Castile, Spain, sieges the Castle. The Spanish army abandoned the siege because of a plague outbreak that severely affected the troops and the king himself.
    • There were no relevant warlike moments after these dates.

Modern era

    • 40’s of the 20th century – the Castle goes through significant rehabilitation works on the Castle.

Romans, barbarians, Moors, and Christians built and destroyed this fortress for almost two thousand years.

Some bravery tales won’t be forgotten. As the story of Martim Moniz, a Portuguese captain during the Castle conquering in 1147, who died trapped by a door allowing his troops to enter the Castle.

Also, during the same episode mentioned above, some shameful actions by the Christians will be remembered to never happen again.

Today the Sao Jorge castle, is one of the most visited monuments in this city.

You will decide for yourself if it worth it for you to visit it.
Independently of what you do, carpe diem.

David Monteiro

PS: In Portuguese, the correct spelling is São Jorge and not Sao as I did it in this text. However, because I know your keyboards probably will not make the “~” I tried to make your life easier.

São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal
São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal
São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal

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