Synonymous with the city’s long and chequered history, Lisbon’s imposing Castle of São Jorge stands proud on the highest hill of the Tagus estuary and was once the nucleus of the Portuguese capital. Evidence suggests that an Iron Age castro, or fortified hilltop town, once existed there.
After capturing the castle in 1147 after a long and bitter battle with the incumbent Moors, Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques, laid the first fortified foundations that still characterise the monument today.
Prior to that, the site was first inhabited by the Phoenicians before a succession of marauders invaded the city and its name derives from England’s Saint George to whom the dying King Sancho I bequeathed his horse early in the 13th century.
Extensively restored in recent years, the Castle of São Jorge is composed of three bulwards comprising a quadrangular fortress complete with ten square towers at the highest point of the most elevated part of Lisbon. A citadel was built on the original site of the Roman acropolis and a series of outer walls stretching south towards the River Tagus were added to defend the castle against the Barbarians.
Set within the castle’s grounds are a very pleasant garden area shaded with olive trees where peacocks roam free, plus the remains of an Arabian palace (Paço da Alcáçova) where the kings of Portugal lived between the 14th and 16th centuries. There’s also a museum, café, upmarket restaurant and an extensive excavation site with artefacts dating back 3,000 years.
But despite all these attractions, the castle’s most appealing aspect is arguably the panoramic views afforded from its battlements, stretching west all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and as far south as the Arrábida mountains lying 40 km from the capital.