Lisbon is one of the prettier and quirkier capital cities I’ve had the privilege of visiting. It has managed to maintain its old traditional look and feel and perhaps nothing encapsulates this more than Lisbon Castle (Castelo de S. Jorge).
Castelo de S. Jorge has survived aeons of change in a country which has seen more than its fair share of turmoil, conflict and bloodshed. It was first occupied by the Moors who built it during the mid 11th Century but after the Conquest of Lisbon in 1147, Dom Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, laid claim to the castle which became the royal family home until the mid 16th century.
It was in 1580 that Portugal became part of the Spanish sovereignty and at that time the castle became a military stronghold; a strategic fortress with excellent panoramic views of the landscape that no attackers could easily sneak up on.
Today those views and the strong castle walls attract hordes of visitors daily, there to savour the scintillating panoramas, the feel of age-worn slippery cobbles underfoot and to hear the stories locked within the ancient walls.
Street merchants greet you upon arrival, Chinese craftsmen and African musicians peddling their wares as they perform, and queues shuffle along the cobbled street waiting for their turn at the slow moving ticket office.
A digital turnstile, so efficient in its role, has cost a handful of people their jobs and now only a single attendant ensures no funny business occurs at the castle’s proper entrance which opens out onto a magnificent courtyard that offers incredible views across the southern and western reaches of Lisbon.
Statues of heroes long gone dot the area and cannons, once so effective against marauding enemies now stand as photo opportunities for tourists ticking the obvious sites off their list of things to do.
A pathway across the walls rings the castle and gives you the opportunity to see the impressive fortifications first hand.
In Part Two we look at the Lover’s Garden and the interior of Castelo de S. Jorge with it high walls and carefully restored museum.
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