Last updated: 11/24/2021
See the details to visit the Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon, one of the main attractions in the city. The place is full of history, beautiful views of the city and has a lot of cool things to discover.
THE CASTLE OF SÃO JORGE
Castelo de São Jorge is a Moorish castle from the 11th century, located on top of the Castelo Hill that is, nowadays, one of the main attractions of Lisbon. The castle was built during the medieval period to be a fortified citadel. The castle complex consists of the castle itself, some annex buildings (including the ruins of the Royal Palace of Alcáçova), gardens and a large terraced square, from where you can have an incredible view of Lisbon from the top of the hill.
In addition to its main walls, the castle is protected by a low wall that prevented enemies from approaching the castle's main walls. It is also partially surrounded by a moat, which is dry these days. The complex still preserves 11 towers, of which the Torre de Menagem, the Torre do Haver or Tombo, the Torre do Paço, the Torre da Cisterna and the Torre de São Lourenço stand out.
A LITTLE OF HISTORY…
There are indications that the first fortifications at the top of the hill date from the 2nd century BC, when in 48 BC Lisbon was a Roman municipality. The area where São Jorge Castle stands today was used in the past by Celtic tribes, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians and, later, by the Romans, Visigoths and Moors. It was in the 10th century that the fortifications were rebuilt by Muslim forces, including the walls. The castle was liberated from Moorish rule in 1147 and, in 1255, Lisbon was once again the capital of the kingdom. In 1373, King Ferdinand I ordered the construction of Cerva Nova, also known as Cerca Fernandina, which made the entire castle surrounded by walls and guarded by towers.
At the end of the 14th century, during the reign of João I, the castle was dedicated to Saint George, the holy warrior, famous for slaying a dragon. Around 1450, the fortified castle was converted into a royal residence. In 1531, an earthquake severely damaged the castle, contributing to its decay. In 1569, King Sebastian ordered the reconstruction of the royal apartments in the castle, with the intention of using it as his official residence. However, with the king's untimely death, the works were never completed.
With the crisis of succession open, Portugal fell under Spanish rule and the castle was converted into a military quarter and a prison. From 1648, after Portuguese independence, the government undertook restoration work on the castle, building a new fortification around it. During the republic, the Salazar government initiated extensive renovations in the place, in addition to discovering vestiges of an old royal palace. At the end of the 20th century, archaeological works contributed to the investigation of human occupation at the top of the hill.
WHAT IS THE VISIT TO THE CASTELO DE SÃO JORGE LIKE
The main entrance to the citadel is formed by a 19th century gate decorated with the coat of arms of Portugal, the name of Queen Maria II and the date 1846.
As São Jorge Castle is one of the most visited attractions in the city, it is very likely that when you arrive you will find long lines to buy the entrance ticket. If you can, arrive early or visit during the week to try to avoid large crowds. In the outdoor area, near the ticket office, there is a gift shop.
After purchasing the ticket, and with the castle map in hand, head to the gate on the left where you will need to read your ticket code. Pass it through the turnstile reader to gain access to the castle's premises. Check out some of the main highlights of Castelo de São Jorge below.
1. ENTRANCE TO THE CASTLE AND VIEWPOINT
Entering the complex, you will access the main square (Praça de Armas), which is decorated with old cannons and a bronze statue of Afonso Henriques, the Portuguese monarch who took the castle from the Moors.
Crossing the square, you will find an area where you can have beautiful views of the center of Lisbon. Due to its location, at the top of the hill, Castelo de São Jorge allows panoramic views, being one of the best viewpoints (viewpoints) in Lisbon.
2. TRACES OF THE FORMER PAÇO ROYAL DA ALCÁÇOVA
The area that now houses the Permanent Exhibition, Café do Castelo and the restaurant Lion's House are part of the area where the medieval residence once stood. Next to it is the Romantic Garden and the terraces where it is still possible to identify some architectural elements that belonged to the former royal palace. The site was destroyed due to the massive earthquake of 1755.
3. PERMANENT EXHIBITION
Right at the beginning of the visit there is a place that houses an exhibition of the castle. In this place a series of items found in the Archaeological Site of the Castle are displayed (we will talk more in item #6). Here artifacts from the 7th century BC to the 18th century are on display. They help to understand the past of the place over the centuries, with an emphasis on the Moorish Period during the 11th and 12th centuries.
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4. CASTELEJO AND ITS TOWERS
As mentioned at the beginning of the post, it was during the Moorish Period, in the mid-11th century, that a fort was built on top of the hill. This structure had, primarily, a military function. Unlike other castles of its type in Europe, it did not function as a royal residence.
Currently, 11 of the towers built on the site are still standing. It is possible to walk through some areas and climb some towers to observe the view and take beautiful pictures of the city. Among the highlights of this area are:
- Keep: This is the main tower of Castelo de São Jorge. It has a stronger structure, as it was prepared to withstand attacks, serving as a command post. It was from this tower that the royal standard was hoisted. In the 18th century, the first observatory in Lisbon was installed here, used for astronomy and meteorology.
- Haver Tower or Tombo Tower: This tower has also been called the Tower of Ulysses since the 18th century. The royal treasury was kept there (the result of the collection of taxes and royal income) and, later, it housed a royal archive, where the most important documents of the kingdom were kept. The Camera Obscura is installed in it (see item #5 for more information).
- Palace Tower: It takes its name because it is close to the old Paço Real, and it is likely that they were connected. In the 15th century, the tower is next to a wing of the Palace known as “Casa dos Leões”, which housed two royal lions. The royal archive also worked in the Torre do Paço until the earthquake of 1755.
- Cistern Tower: The tower takes its name precisely because it has a mechanism for collecting and storing water known as a cistern.
- Tower of Sao Lourenco: This tower is on a hillside and is linked to the castle by a cuirass, a well-known element of the military architecture of the Moorish period. This connection guaranteed safe access to a well outside the castle. In addition, it allowed reinforcements or supplies to enter the castle.
- Moniz Gate: This is one of the three gates in the walled area of the citadel. It is associated with a legend from the time of the conquest of Lisbon by the Moors, in 1147. The legend tells that the knight of King D. Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, would have died on the spot so that the gate would not close, allowing entry of the Christians and the reconquest of the city. The name of the tower is, therefore, a tribute to the knight Martim Moniz.
5. CAMERA obscura
Installed in 1998 in the Haver Tower (or Tombo or Ulisses), the Câmara Obscura is a room where the result of an optical system of lenses and mirrors is displayed, allowing you to observe the city of Lisbon in real time in detail, see its main attractions , monuments and iconic places in the city. The place is very interesting, as it allows you to have a 360º view of the most important places in Lisbon.
6. ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
The Archaeological Site is in a more isolated area of the castle complex. There are a set of archaeological remains dating back many centuries. Archaeologists believe that in this space it is possible to identify different moments in Lisbon's history, including:
- Iron Age (8th to 3rd centuries BC): Set of housing structures from the first occupations in the area. A kitchen with various artifacts such as pans, pots, cups and amphorae were found.
- Islamic Quarter (11th and 12th centuries): Remains of the residential area in the Moorish period. Here were the city government elites in their simplest houses and buildings. Painted plaster and decorated with geometric motifs were found on the walls.
- Royal Palace (15th to 18th centuries): Ruins of the former royal palace, destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. At this location traces of the ground floor were found. In it were a pantry, kitchens and stables of the Palace of the Counts of Santiago. The palace took advantage of part of the constructions of an old episcopal palace built on top of Moorish buildings.
HOW TO GET TO CASTELO DE SÃO JORGE
To get to Castelo de São Jorge using public transport, you can take the Bus (Bus) 737 or Tram Elétrico 12E or 28E. Remember that the castle is located at the top of a slope. Therefore, you will have to walk part of the journey for about 10 minutes. The ascent is steep and, therefore, there is no point in rushing. An important tip is to wear comfortable shoes and clothes during the visit.
ECONOMY TIP: LISBON CARD
For those who want to visit several places in Lisbon, our tip is to purchase the Lisbon Card. The Lisboa Card gives you free entry to several attractions in the city, as well as unlimited public transport. It is possible to buy the card in 3 versions: 24h, 48h or 72h. The train ticket between Lisbon and Sintra is also included in the Lisboa Card, as well as discounts at various shops, tours and attractions. We tested and approved! Read more: Lisbon Card: Savings tip in the Portuguese capital
- Address: Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo, 1100-129 Lisbon, Portugal
- Schedules: daily from November to February from 9 am to 7 pm / from March to October from 9 am to 9 pm / Camera Obscura from 10 am to 5:20 pm
- Entrance: €10
- Other type of ticket: Lisbon: Skip-the-Line Entrance to São Jorge Castle w/ Reception (Skip-the-line entrance to the castle with a 15-minute introduction to the site's history)
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