Moors Castle, the guardian of Sintra
Moors Castle, one of the symbols of Sintra, was built by the Moors and conquered by the first Portuguese king, Afonso Henriques, in 1147.
On the top of a mount, named as Mount of the Moon by the Romans, is situated Moors Castle, or Castelo dos Mouros in Portuguese, a symbol of the romantic village of Sintra, from where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding area, including the imposing Pena Palace.
As we all may infer from the name, Moors Castle was built during the Moors occupation of today’s Portugal territory, possible between the XIII and the IX centuries, even though there are some theories that suggest the castle had been built by the Visigoths.
Up to Afonso Henriques the possession of the castle went back and forth from the Moors to the Christians; finally the first Portuguese king, after the conquest of Lisbon in 1147, took definitely the castle and developed the area by granting a letter of feudal rights in 1154, in order to promote the popularization that would help to maintain the conquered territory in his hands. Under his orders was built the Romanesque church of Saint Peter by the castle, whose ruins you can visit, as even though the church has no roof, the apse and the barrel vault are still standing. Archaeological works still in progress discovered a medieval cemetery around the church. Another important trace of the early years is the Moorish cistern, an underground chamber to hold water to be used in case of a prolonged siege, set inside the castle walls.
Nevertheless with time the castle’s importance declined, mostly because the Moorish threat disappeared and the population moved downhill, to today’s old quarter Sintra. In fact, in the XV century, the castle had no military importance whatsoever and was only occupied by a few Jews, who lived there after being segregated by a royal order. In fact, after all Jews have been banished from the Portuguese lands in 1496 the castle was totally abandoned and fall in ruins.
The situation stayed unchanged until 1830 when king Fernando II, inspired by the Romantic style and by his love for Sintra, decided to recover the Moors Castle, given the place a romantic and mysterious ambiance that still remains untouched and contributes to the unique aura embracing Sintra. This is why Moors castle is on the agenda of all who spend one day in Sintra.