Castelo dos Mouros spans the crest of a granite hill above Sintra. Its walls are long and narrow with towers interpsersed, the stone steps now well worn by heavy tourist footfall. It is one of the region’s must-see attractions and for the cost of 8 euros you can enjoy its rich history, spectacular views and shaded walks.
The castle has grown down the centuries; originally built by the Moors it fell under Portuguese control during the reign of D. Afonso Henriques in 1143. Although the walls and walkways are the most visited portion of the castle, a lot of its more interesting facets lie outside the walls along the cultivated pathways among the Pine, Cedar and Cork Oak trees.
Before you reach the centre of the castle you’ll pass through the narrow guard posts and just beyond them are the ‘Granaries‘, places cut into the rock used first by the Moors as cereal storage and later by the Christians as garbage vessels.
There is currently an archaeological dig at the base of the inner walls investigating remains dating from the Neolithic period (5000 BC). There are remains of houses and a church necropolis with graves.
Further along is the Memorial, built by Ferdinand II as a place to store exhumed skeletons while the church of Saint Peter was being restored. The church was built in the 12th century after the reconquest of Lisbon by King Afonso Henriques.
Just inside the main entrance are Knight’s quarters which have since been used as stables. They stand just behind the reservoir; a huge stone tank with two vents on the roof which harvested rain water and kept it fresh, meaning that the castle’s occupants could withstand heavy and prolonged sieges without having to leave the safety of the walls.
The castle keep lies sits at the northern end of the castle and its thick walls were said to have been able to withstand any attack. From here the walls meander along the hill top and the views are spectacular, a vista that stretches to the Atlantic horizon and Lisbon coast.
Part way along the walls you’ll encounter an alleged secret passage, the use of which is still unclear. Some theorise that it was an escape route while others claim it was used to sneak spies or enemy soldiers into the castle. Whichever the case it’s a very narrow tunnel. Rather them than me crawling through it.
The Royal Tower lies at the southern end of the castle and is called so because King Fernando made it his favourite place to paint. Understandably so, for again, the views from there are nothing short of spectacular; pure inspiration for those with an artistic bent.
Castelo dos Mouros is open all year round with varying times depending on season. In High season it opens between 9:30am and 8pm (with a 7pm cut off for buying tickets), while in low season opening times are between 10am and 6pm (5pm closing time for the ticket office).
For more information visit: www.parquesdesintra.pt
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