Sintra’s Castle of the Moors
February 27th, 2021
After yesterday’s tour through Pena Palace, today we’re continuing the journey at neighboring Castelo dos Mouros, or Castle of the Moors. The contrast between these neighboring mountaintop forts could not be greater — one colorful and ostentatious to the south; the other rugged and bare to the north. They do share one thing in common — a most impressive view of Sintra below, extending all the way to the Atlantic.
Which of the forts do you prefer?
Tomorrow we’ll descend back down to sea level and visit our next location in Portugal.
Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.
After lunch we debate about driving back up the hill to see Castelo dos Mouros, the Castle of the Moors. Can it really be that spectacular after seeing such an overwhelming example of Romantic architecture in Pena Palace? We drive up the hill, park the car and follow the path through the trees.
There are no pretty colors or spires, just old stone walls and staircases following the contours of the mountain. Archaeological evidence reveals this site was occupied as long ago as 5,000 B.C. The castle we see today was built by the Moors in the 8th century. It’s far less comfortable than Pena Palace but just as strategically positioned.
The entire castle is open for exploring. After walking through the entry and Plaza de Armas, we turn right and climb up to the Castle Keep. High on the hill, the Castle Keep was a prime place to watch over land and sea in defense of the port of Lisbon.
The Moors lived in and around the castle until the middle of the 12th century. Silos found on the site — which held grains, cereals and legumes — date back to this occupation. In 1147, the first king of Portugal took control of Sintra and the castle was further occupied until the 15th century. It has since been restored after earthquake damage and years of disuse.
We descend the north side of the castle and climb the south side to the Royal Tower. The staircase is a ribbon of stone up the mountain and turning around to see the view is breathtaking. The village of Sintra sits directly below. Much like Pena Palace, Castelo dos Mouros requires careful steps along the narrow walls and parapets throughout the site.
Looking south we find a full view of Pena Palace which was impossible to see when we were standing close, looking up at it. From here it looks proud, stately and less of a caricature as it catches the thin fog drifting around the mountain.
These sites are so close to each other yet they have such different stories to tell. I can’t help but wonder, was there ever castle envy as the shiny new Pena Palace took form in the 1800s while Castelo dos Mouros looked on with its raw fortitude? We’ll never know.