São Jorge Castle

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This article is about Castelo de São Jorge in Lisbon. For other uses, see St George's Castle.
Castle of São Jorge (Castelo de São Jorge)
Castle and walls of São Jorge
Castle (Castelo)
The visible profile of the Castle of São Jorge overlooking the historical centre of Lisbon
Official name: Castelo de São Jorge e restos das cercas de Lisboa
Named for: São Jorge
Country  Portugal
Region Lisboa
Subregion Greater Lisbon
District Lisbon
Municipality Lisbon
Location Castelo
Architects Custódio Vieira da Silva, Filippo Terzi, João Gillot, Manuel do Couto, Teodósio de Frias, the Younger
Style Medieval
Materials Stone, Granite, Reinforced concrete
Owner Portuguese Republic
For public Public
Easiest access Rua do Chão da Feira; Largo Rodrigo de Freitas; Rua de Santa Cruz; Rua das Cozinhas
Management Instituto Gestão do Patrimonio Arquitectónico e Arqueológico
Operator Câmara Municipal de Lisboa; 31 May 1942, and reaffirmed on 8 June 1979
Status National Monument
Listing Decree 16 June 1910; DG136, 23 June 1910
Wikimedia Commons: Castelo de São Jorge

The Castle of São Jorge (Portuguese: Castelo de São Jorge; Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐʃˈtɛlu dɨ sɐ̃w̃ ˈʒɔɾʒ(ɨ)]) is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic centre of the Portuguese city of Lisbon and Tagus River. The strongly fortified citadel dates from medieval period of Portuguese history, and is one of the main tourist sites of Lisbon.


A 16th century illuminated manuscript of Lisbon, in the Crónica de D. Afonso Henriques by Duarte Galvao, depicting the castle and walls, including the Royal Palace (Alcáçova) (1505)
Caravels and carracks in the Tagus River, with the castle in the centre distance, unknown artist (1572)

Although the first fortification on this hilltop date to the 2nd century BC, archaeological excavations have identified a human presence in the Tagus valley as far back as the 6th century BC. The first fortification was, presumably, erected in 48 BC, when Lisbon was classified as a Roman municipality.[1]

The hill was used by indigenous Celtic tribes, then by Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians, as a defensible outpost, that was later expropriated by Roman, Suebic, Visigothic, and Moorish peoples. During the 10th century, the fortifications were rebuilt by Muslim forces, that included the walls or Cerca Moura (Moorish Encirclment).[1]


In the context of the Christian Reconquista, the castle and the city of Lisbon was conquered from Moors by Afonso Henriques, assisted by northern European knights during the Second Crusade: the Siege of Lisbon, which took place in 1147, was the only notable success of that failed crusade.[1] 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. The taking of the castle helped Christians forces maintain the defense of Lisbon until the end of the 12th century.

When Lisbon became the center of the Kingdom, in 1255, the castle acted as the alcáçova: a fortified residence for Afonso III, in his role as governor.[1] It was extensively renovated around 1300 by King Denis I, transforming the Moorish alcáçova into the Royal Palace of the Alcáçova.[1] Between 1373 and 1375, King Ferdinand I constructed the Cerca Nova or Cerca Fernandina, the walled compound that enclosed the entirety of the castle.[1] During this construction, masters João Fernandes and Vasco Brás were responsible for the activities onsite.[1] This wall, which partially replaced the old Moorish walls, was designed to encircle previously-unprotected parts of the city. Completed in two years, it had 77 towers and a perimeter of 5,400 metres (17,700 ft).

The castle and the city resisted the forces of Castile several times during the 14th century (notably in 1373 and in 1383–4). It was during this period (the late 14th century), that the castle was dedicated to Saint George by King John I, who had married the English princess, Philippa of Lancaster.[1] Saint George, the warrior-saint, was normally represented slaying a dragon, and very was popular in both countries.

It was during from this point that many of the Kingdom's records began to be housed in the Torre de Ulisses (Tower of Ulyssess), also known as the Torre Albarrã, until the reign of Manuel I.[1] For that reason, the Portuguese National Archive is (still) referred to as the Torre do Tombo (literally the Tower of the Archive (where eminent Portuguese chroniclers like Fernão Lopes and Damião de Góis, once worked). On 9 December 1448, Gil Pires was named castle carpenter, to replace Afonso Esteves, being paid 400 réis for his work.[1] Between 1448 and 1451, the carpenter was paid several stipends for his work within the palace. Similarly, the mason João de Alverca was paid 17$016 for stonework; there were also purchased of iron, totally 3$792; acquisition of calcium oxide totally 3$740; the purchase of raw wood for over 14$500; and the purchase of roofing, tile and sand equal to 4$474.[1] These public works continued from 1449 until 1452, with additional payments for labor, calcium oxide, carpentry, cork, stonework and other purchases, including doors and windows, to convert the site from meager castle to royal residence.[1]

As Royal Palace, the castle was the setting for the reception for the navigator and national hero, Vasco da Gama, who had returned from discovering a maritime route to India: King Manuel I received him at the castle in 1498. The castle also served as a theater in 1502, when pioneering playwright Gil Vicente, staged his Monólogo do Vaqueiro, to honor the birth of Manuel I's son and heir, the future João III.[1]

Around the early 16th century, following the construction of the Ribeira Palace along the Tagus river, the old castle began to lose importance.[1] An earthquake occurring in 1531 further damaged the Palace of Alcáçova, contributing further to the site's decay and neglect.[1] In 1569, King Sebastian ordered the rebuilding of the royal apartments in the castle, intending to use it as his official residence. As part of the rebuilding, in 1577, Filippo Terzi demolished one of the tower, near the principal facade of the Church of Loreto.[1] However, many of the projects was never completed, with the young King's "disappearance" during the Battle of Alcácer Quibir. The Portuguese dynastic crisis that followed, opened the way for sixty years of Spanish rule and the castle was converted into barracks and a prison.[1] On 30 December 1642, during public reconstruction, Teodósio de Frias the Younger, replaced work completed at the time by his father Luís de Frias, and grandfather Teodósio de Frias. This was a part of a greater plan by the Spanish forces to recommission the fortification.

Lisbon seen from São Jorge Castle

But, with the Restoration Wars, the project was transformed into a Portuguese project. On 6 November 1648, there was a request sent for Nicolau de Langres to takeover the design, execution and construction of a new fortification that would surround the Castle of São Jorge, and city walls of Lisbon. In 1650, though, the site was visited by military architect Mateus do Couto. With the naming of Manuel do Couto, as master of the project, the reconstruction took on a new formality: João Gillot projected new walls in 1652; between 1657 and 1733, the building project followed the plans of Manuel do Couto. In 1673, the soldiers hospital was installed on the grounds, dedicated to São João de Deus, along the Rua do Recolhimento. At the end of the 17th century, the Recolhimento do Castelo (castle shelter) was constructed along the southeast angle of the courtyard, and in 1733, new projects were projected by master Custódio Vieira da Silva.

The great 1755 Lisbon earthquake severely damaged the castle and contributed to its continuing decay: apart from the walls of the old castle, the soldier's hospital and shelter were left in ruins. Further, the need to maintain a supporting force within the capital necessitated the expansion of the site's role of garrison and presidio. From 1780 to 1807, the charitable institution Casa Pia, dedicated to the education of poor children, was established in the citadel, while soldiers continued to be garrisoned onsite. Inspired by the events of the earthquake and tsunami, in 1788, the first geodesic observatory in Portugal was constructed at the top of one of the towers of the castle; later referred to as the Torre do Observatório.


The castle walls and towers, constructed during the Moorish occupation of Lisbon
Castle barbican (low wall in the foreground) in front of the main wall, and a tower.
A cannon overlooking the 18th century buildings of the Baixa Pombaline

As part of the commemorative celebrations marking the foundation of nationhood and restoration of independence (Portuguese: Fundação da Nacionalidade e da Restauração da Independência), the government of António de Oliveira Salazar initiated extensive renovations at the site. Most of the incongruous structures added to the castle compound in previous centuries were demolished, under the supervision of the DGEMN, and there was a partial restoration of the Recolhimento. In addition, on 25 October 1947, a monument dedicated to Afonso Henriques, presented by the city of Porto, of a replica created by Soares dos Reis (in 1887) was installed on the grounds.

In 1998, the semi-rectangular spaces, columns and cistern were adapted into the museum Olissipónia.

On 22 August 2006, Direcção Regional de Cultura Lisboa (DRCLisboa) defined a special protection zone, that included the Castle of São Jorge and the rest of the walls of Lisbon, the Baixa Pombalina and various properties that were already classified as cultural heritage. The Conselho Nacional de Cultura (National Council on Culture) proposed shelving this definition on 10 October 2011, which was supported by IGESPAR


A panorama of the entire Castle of São Jorge.

The castle is located in the centre of city of Lisbon, over an escarpment, while many of its walls extend around the citadel into the civil parishes that surround it to the east and south.

The castle's footprint is roughly square, 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.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Silva, João; Rodrigues, Albertina (2002), SIPA, ed., Castelo de São Jorge e restos das cercas de Lisboa (PT031106120023) (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: SIPA–Sistema de Informação para o Património Arquitectónico, retrieved 28 December 2012 
  • Monteiro, João Gouveia; Pontes, Maria Leonor (2002), Castelos Portugueses. Guias Temáticos (in Portuguese), Lisbon, Portugal: IPPAR 

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Coordinates: 38°42′50″N 9°08′01″W / 38.71389°N 9.13361°W / 38.71389; -9.13361