Castle of São Jorge

The Castle of São Jorge (Portuguese: Castelo de São Jorge; Portuguese pronunciation: ) is a moorish castle that occupies a commanding position overlooking the city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and the broad Tagus River (Portuguese: Rio Tejo) beyond. The strongly fortified citadel, which, in its present configuration, dates from medieval times, is located atop the highest hill in the historic center of the city. The castle is one of the main historical and touristic sites of Lisbon.

History
Origins

Although the first fortifications on this Lisbon hilltop are known to be no older than the second century BC, archaeological research has shown that humans have occupied the site since the sixth century BC, and possibly earlier. The hill was employed in early times by indigenous Celtic tribes, and others, probably Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians, have also left their cultural footprints there. Afterwards, Roman, Suebic, Visigothic, and Moorish settlers lived where the castle now stands.

Middle Ages

In the context of the Christian Reconquista, the castle and the city of Lisbon were won from the Moors by King Afonso Henriques with the help of northern-European crusaders associated with the Second Crusade. (The Siege of Lisbon, which took place in 1147, was the only notable success of that failed crusade.) According to an oft-repeated legend, the knight, Martim Moniz, noticed that one of the doors to the castle was open, and he prevented the Moors from closing the door again by throwing his own body into the breach. He sacrificed his life but, in doing so, allowed Christian soldiers to enter.

Ownership of the castle helped Lisbon to protect itself against the Moors during the last years of the twelfth century. When Lisbon became the capital of the kingdom, in 1255, the castle became the royal palace, the Alcáçova. It was extensively renovated around 1300 by King Dinis I.

Between 1373 and 1375, a new city wall was built around Lisbon (locally, called the Cerca Nova or the Fernandina) by King Ferdinand I, of which some remnants survive. This wall, which partially replaced the old Moorish walls, was designed to encircle previously-unprotected parts of the city. It had 77 towers and a perimeter of 5400 metres, and it was completed in only two years. The castle and the city resisted the Castilian army several times during the 14th century, notably in 1373 and in 1383–4.

At about this time, in the late 14th century, the castle was dedicated to Saint George by João I, who had married the English princess, Philippa of Lancaster. George, the warrior-saint, usually represented fighting a dragon, was popular in both countries.

From the 14th to the early 16th century, one of the towers (the Torre de Ulisses or Torre Albarrã) of the castle housed the archives of the kingdom. For that reason, the National Archive of Portugal is still called the Torre do Tombo, that is, the Tower of the Archive. Eminent chroniclers like Fernão Lopes and Damião de Góis worked there.

As the royal palace, the castle was the setting for the reception of the navigator and hero, Vasco da Gama, when he returned after discovering a maritime route to India. King Manuel I received him there, in 1498, with all appropriate honors and celebrations. Also in the castle, the pioneering playwright, Gil Vicente, staged, in 1502, his Monólogo do Vaqueiro, to honour the birth of Manuel I's son and heir, the future João III.

Modern times

During the early 16th century, as Manuel I built a new royal palace on the edge of the Tagus river (the so-called Ribeira Palace), the old castle began to lose importance. An earthquake in 1531 damaged the castle, and this only contributed to further decay and neglect. In 1569, King Sebastian ordered the rebuilding of the royal apartments in the castle of São Jorge, because he intended to use it as his residence. However, this project was never completed. Starting in 1580, when a Portuguese dynastic crisis opened the door to sixty years of Spanish rule, the castle was used as a barracks and a prison.

The great 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the castle and contributed to its degradation. Inspired by the horrendous trauma of the earthquake, in 1788, the first geodesic observatory in Portugal was assembled at the top of one of the towers of the castle; it is called the Torre do Observatório.

From 1780 to 1807, the charitable institution Casa Pia, dedicated to the education of poor children, was established in the citadel.

The castle's period of neglect ended in the 1940s, when an extensive renovation was undertaken. Most of the incongruous structures added to the castle compound in earlier centuries were demolished. The castle then became a big tourist attraction, known especially for the wonderful views of Lisbon that it offers.

Architecture

The castle's blueprint is roughly square in shape, and it was originally encircled by a wall, to form a citadel. The castle complex consists of the castle itself (the castelejo), some ancillary buildings (including the ruins of the royal palace), gardens, and a large terraced square from which an impressive panorama of Lisbon is visible. The main entrance to the citadel is a 19th-century gate surmounted by the coat-of-arms of Portugal, the name of Queen Maria II, and the date, 1846. This gate permits access to the main square (Praça d'Armas), which is decorated with old cannons and a bronze statue of Afonso Henriques, the Portuguese monarch who took the castle from the Moors. This statue is a copy of the 19th-century original by the romantic sculptor, António Soares dos Reis, which is located near Guimarães Castle in central Portugal.

The remnants of the royal palace are located near the main square, but all that is left are some walls and a few rebuilt rooms like the Casa Ogival. It now hosts the Olissipónia, a multimedia show about the history of Lisbon.

The medieval castle is located toward the northwest corner of the citadel, at its highest point. Hypothetically, during a siege, if attackers managed to enter the citadel, the castle was the last stronghold, the last place available to take refuge. It is rectangular in shape, and it has a total of ten towers. A wall with a tower and a connecting door, divides the castle courtyard into halves. A series of stairways allow visitors to reach the walkway atop the wall and the towers, from which magnificent views of Lisbon can be enjoyed. The Tower of Ulysses (where the Torre do Tombo archive used to be) now has a periscope that allow tourists to have a 360-degree view of the city.

Apart from its main walls, the castle is protected, on its southern and eastern sides, by a barbican (barbacã), a low wall that prevented siege engines from approaching the main castle walls. The northern and western sides of the castle, on the other hand, were naturally protected by the steep hillside sloping downward from the castle's foundations. The castle is also partially encircled by a moat, now dry. The main entrance is fronted by a stone bridge across the moat. On the west side, there is a long curtain wall extending downhill, ending at a tower (the Torre de Couraça). This tower served to control the valley below, and it could also be used to escape, in case the castle was taken by enemies.

Building Activity

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