Last updated: 10/31/2022
Get to know details about Castelo dos Mouros, a historic fortress on top of the Serra de Sintra that provides incredible views!
THE CASTLE OF THE MOOURS
Situated at the top of the Serra de Sintra, in a region with a climate characterized by low temperatures and high rainfall, due to its proximity to the sea and dense vegetation, Castelo dos Mouros is a medieval castle built on top of a hill by the Moors ( Muslims) in the 8th and 9th centuries. The castle is a military construction on a perimeter of 450 meters and has been remodeled and expanded over time.
The castle has two sets of walls, the second being equipped with circular and square towers. And on second wall which is the main entrance to the castle. Next to these secondary walls and entrance are the main ruins of the old buildings, corresponding to the cellars, corrals and cistern. Outside the secondary wall is a chapel with a rectangular nave and a narrow lower presbytery.
A LITTLE OF HISTORY…
Archaeological studies show that the primitive occupation of the region dates back to the 10th century BC When there was the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, the region came to be occupied in the 8th century and the castle was built with the aim of controlling the roads that linked Sintra to Lisbon, Cascais and Mafra. The Moorish Castle was an important strategic point during the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula and was taken by Christian forces after the fall of Lisbon in 1147. Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, entrusted the security of the castle to 30 inhabitants, granting them privileges in the charter signed in 1154. The letter suggested that the colonists occupy and inhabit the castle, as a mechanism to guarantee the security and development of the region. In 1375, King Ferdinand I of Portugal ordered the castle to be rebuilt.
Although the structure was well fortified in 1383, its military importance was progressively diminished as, more and more, the inhabitants abandoned the castle and left for the center of the town of Sintra. The 1755 earthquake caused considerable damage to the chapel and affected the stability of the castle, and by 1838 the towers were already in ruins. From 1840 onwards, D. Fernando II undertook to make some reforms and improvements to the castle. In 1939, a project to renovate the castle walls began. In 1979, archaeological excavations at the Capela de São Pedro began, discovering the existence of medieval burial tombs, dating from the turn of the 13th century.
UNESCO HERITAGE & PARKS OF SINTRA
In 1995, together with other attractions in the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, the Castle has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2000, the Parques de Sintra organization started to manage the monument and, in 2009, an Archaeological Research Camp was created to learn about the history of occupation of the castle, which was responsible for carrying out archaeological excavations until 2013. In 2015, a Interpretation Center of the Moorish Castle.
PANORAMIC VIEWS FROM THE CASTLE DOS MOUROS
The Moorish Castle was the attraction we most enjoyed visiting in Sintra. In addition to providing a visit to an authentic medieval fortress, it is located on top of a rock at the top of the Serra de Sintra, and it is possible to enjoy incredible views of the entire region, including the historic village of Sintra and the National Palace of Sintra, the Palácio da Pena, Vila Sassetti, Quinta da Regaleira, among other buildings.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE VISIT TO THE CASTLE DOS MOUROS
It is recommended to purchase tickets to visit the Castle online so as not to waste time in line at the box office. That's what we did and we guarantee you'll save time and money (you get a discount when you buy online). You can also buy tickets at the ticket office located near the road (before starting the journey to reach the castle) or at the ticket office located in the castle complex (just before the actual visit begins). So, if you buy it on the spot, remember that if there's a long line at the first ticket office, go ahead and buy it at the other.
In the Castle complex, a tourist structure was also built with restrooms and a Café, close to the ticket office.
The Moorish Castle is protected by two belts of walls, one inside and one outside. The outer walls open close to Abelheira (west of Tapada dos Bichos), from a main access door, where several paths wind along the top of the castle hill. After Afonso Henrique conquered the castle from the Moors, the Knights Templar were responsible for defending and maintaining the walls, restructuring them. In order to protect the population that lived there, in addition to the animals and crops, it was decided to build a second belt of walls.
This second belt reinforces the castle with circular and square towers, thick battlements and railings, and crowned with pyramid-shaped merlons. On this second wall is the main entrance to the castle, protected by two turrets and battlements. Located in the most uneven and least used area of the fort, is the Door of Betrayal, which allowed access to the outside of the castle, in case of need to escape.
2. HALL & HOUSE TOWER
Integrated into the Keep is the Alcáçova, the place where the local civil and religious authorities of the castle resided. It was built on one of the highest points of the rock, making it possible to view the entire Serra de Sintra region. Due to its strategic position, it was built to be the last point of resistance in the castle, in case of enemy attack.
3. ROYAL TOWER
The Royal Tower provides the best view of the beautiful Pena National Palace. It has this name to designate one of the places where King Fernando II liked to paint. A print collector since the age of 9, he was known as the Artist King and used this space to inspire his creations. This was one of our favorite spots in the castle because the view from up there is amazing and you can have a panoramic view of practically the entire castle.
4. PLAZA DE ARMS
The Plaza de Armas is the largest area of the castle and allowed the concentration of the military garrison. During the 19th century, some of the renovations carried out by King Fernando II transformed this space into a peaceful place with a Moorish heritage invoked through the arabic door, a horseshoe-shaped arched entrance to the wall.
On the left side of the Plaza de Armas, in the most uneven and least used area of the fort, is the Door of Betrayal, half hidden, which allowed access to the outside of the castle, in case of need to escape.
5. OLD STABLES
On the east side of the wall, there are ruins of two areas that were covered and it is not sure what they were used for. One of the suspicions was that they served first as stables and, later, as areas for raising domestic animals. Inside it is possible to find traces of the foundations of a Moorish house and silos that show the Islamic occupation in the region.
In the castle, it is possible to find an area with silos, which were kinds of holes of different sizes excavated in the rocks, which were used for the storage and conservation of cereals and legumes and were widely used by Muslim peoples.
The cistern of Castelo dos Mouros is a reservoir built with granite blocks from another construction and represented a strategic advantage to take refuge within the castle walls with the guarantee of water supply. With a capacity of around 600 m³, the cistern is covered by a vault with two ventilation chimneys at its pinnacle. Inside, you can see some stonecutters from the 12th century. There is also a 13th century broken arch door.
8. CHURCH OF SÃO PEDRO DE CANAFERRIM
Built in granite stone masonry in the 12th century, the Igreja de São Pedro de Canaferrim was the first parish church in Sintra, which operated until the 14th century. There are still traces of an old Gothic mural from the 15th century in the chancel. In 2015, a new Moorish Castle Interpretation Center which seeks to tell the history of the peoples who passed through there from prehistory (5 thousand BC) to the Middle Ages (10th to 12th centuries).
In addition to old pieces collected in the excavations, there is also a model of the Castelo dos Mouros, a video with the history of the place and interactive multimedia exhibitions.
9. MEDIEVAL CHRISTIAN NECROPOLIS
In this place there is a Christian medieval necropolis, built between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, which was installed over the old Islamic medieval quarter. After the conquest by Afonso Henriques, the old Islamic neighborhood was destroyed and used as a Christian cemetery serving the Church of São Pedro de Canaferrim with the graves each containing more than one individual.
Later, traces of occupation were also identified in the Neolithic, Copper Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and also during the Roman period, many of the items are displayed in the Moorish Castle Interpretation Center. In this space, there is a glass floor and some false skeletons to simulate what was found there.
During the reign of Fernando II, some of the renovations carried out ended up damaging a part of the Christian necropolis built around the church. A tomb was erected to bury bones found in the area and a tombstone was carved with the inscription: “What man has joined, only God can separate”, since it was impossible to know whether they were Christian or Moorish human remains.
WHERE TO EAT AND SHOP IN CASTELO DOS MOUROS
- EAT: There are two places to eat in Castelo dos Mouros, the Castle Cafeteria, located inside the walls and with a pleasant patio; and outside the wall, Guard House, a cafeteria installed in the former Casa do Guarda do Castelo dos Mouros, which has a roof terrace, providing beautiful views of the Serra de Sintra. Casa do Guarda is temporarily closed.
- PURCHASE: THE Castle store offers several articles, many of Moroccan inspiration, so that visitors can take a piece of the Moorish cultural heritage of the place. The store is temporarily closed.
HOW TO GET TO THE CASTLE DOS MOUROS
First, don't go by car. Sintra is a village of winding and rather narrow streets and, although some people risk going up by car, personal vehicles are prohibited from circulating in this area and you can be fined. There are a few ways to get to Castelo dos Mouros, among which the most common are:
- WALKING: If you are in good physical condition and enjoy walking, the route from the center of the historic village of Sintra is about 1.8 km. But, make no mistake. Remember that the Castelo dos Mouros is on top of a hill and therefore the walk is steep. We walked down to the village after visiting the castle, as going down is much easier and took about half an hour.
- BUS: Once in Sintra, take the bus (“bus” in Portugal) from Route 434, Circuito da Pena, from Scotturb. A one-way ticket for this route costs €3.90 and the hop on hop off option costs €6.90. The first bus leaves at 9:30 am and you can check timetables and stopping points here and buy tickets in this link.
- UBER: Uber works very well in Sintra and is an interesting option at fair prices. It's a good one for those who want comfort, air conditioning, but it can be hampered by the rather annoying traffic on weekends and summer.
- TUK TUK: It is a cheaper alternative to Uber, although without the same comfort. Just like the tuk tuk in Asia, you must negotiate the price before entering. We used the tuk tuk on two occasions and it was a good way to get around the traffic.
- EXCURSIONS: For those who are in Lisbon, a good option is to participate in a guided tour that includes visiting other places, optimizing your time. Check out some of the options below.
- Address: 2710-405 Sintra, Portugal
- Schedules: daily from 9 am to 6:30 pm (last entry 30 minutes before closing)
- Entrance: 8€ (7.60€ – 5% discount when buying online)
- Tip: allow at least 1.5 hours to visit the castle
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