Castle of the Moors in Sintra

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The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in the central Portuguese civil parish of Santa Maria e São Miguel, in the municipality of Sintra. Taken by Christian forces from the Moors after the fall of Lisbon, it was an important strategic point during the Reconquista, and classified as aNational Monument.


The castle was constructed during the 8th to 9th century, during the period of Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula, as the central place in an territory that was immeniently agricultural, and which was necessary to protect its population

In 1031, after the loss of Córdoba to the Almoravid dynasty, the king of Badajoz opted to transfer to Alfonso VI of León and Castile, a few territories on the Iberian peninsula (among them Sintra) in order to gain an alliance with the Christian king.Claudia Torres (1995), p.167</ref>

At the end of the 19th century, the administrator of the Forestry Service, Carlos de Nogueira, authorized several projects in the castle and chapel.<ref name=SIPA/>

In 1939, the DGEMN becomes involved in the reconstruction of the castle walls, in addition to the lateral door of the chapel.

With an eye towards a fledgling tourist market, in 1954 a few of the cliffs were cleared to establish a picnic area near the castle, and in 1965, a transformer was installed to provide illumination.<ref name=SIPA/>

In 1979 archaeological excavations in the Chapel of São Pedro begin by the cultural services of Portugal, which discovered the existance of medieval funerary tombs, dating to the end of the 12th, beginning of the 13th, centuries. A dispatch by the Ministry of Culture, on 26 June 1996, declared the area of the Castle as a zone of special interest .<ref name=SIPA/>

During the summer of 1986, scouts were involved in projects to consolidate the walls with cement and clean the grounds, supported by the CMS.<ref name=SIPA/>

In 2001 there are various interventions associated with cleaning the property, clearing undergrowth and forest overgrowth, and the installation of an electrical box along one of the walls.<ref name=SIPA/>


It is situated on the top of the Sintra Mountains, where it has a panoramic view of the municipality of Sintra, and on a clear day Mafra and Ericeira. It is accessible from Santa Maria e São Miguel by a protected gate and turnstile, or across a road accessway to the Palace of Pena.<ref name=SIPA/> The castle is located in the limits of the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, in the north flank of the Sintra Mountains, where the slopes are at most 40% gradients, with accented or moderate variation. The Serra da Sintra, known locally, consists of an eruptive massif with an abundance of granite, sienitos, gabros and dioritos rock formations, with soils consisting of litólicos, húmicos, câmbicos, normais, de granito (Mng).<ref name=SIPA/>

The climate is characterized by low temperatures and elevated precipatation, due to its proximity to the sea, its relief and dense vegetation. The local vegetation is dense and diverse, with a large percentage exotics introduced during the 16th century by D. João de Castro, and in the 19th century by Ferdinand II and Francis Cook.<ref name=SIPA/> Further, the fauna is characterized by a similar diversity, and was integrated into the royal estates and hunting grounds, including the Tapada dos Bichos, Tapada do Inhaca, Tapada do Borges, Pinhal do Prior and Tapada do Forjaz, Pinhal do Sereno, Pinhal do Tomado and Pinhal do Vale dos Anjos.<ref name=SIPA/>

Within the proximity of the castle are many other sites, including the Garden of Pena , the Estate of Penha Verde , the Estate of Regaleira , the Estate of Relógio and the Park of Monserrate , among others.<ref name=SIPA/> The Moorish Castle and other properties in the region act as a principal focus of tourism, the principal activity in this region.<ref name=SIPA/>


The castle is an irregularly planned military outpost that follows a 450 metre perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff, oriented southwest to northwest. It consists of a double line of military walls that meanders over the granite terrain of the promontory. Its place on the hilltop, surrounded by and including the natural and exotic vegetation, accentuates the Romantic character of the place. The Moorish Castle, due to its geographic place and design, was considered, along with Santarém, one of the principal points of the military plan of Belata (the Muslim province which corresponds to the Ribatejo and Estremadura).<ref name=IGESPAR/> The property was remodelled and expanded over time, resulting in a Romantic-era ruins, that included damage caused over time and the public works of Ferdinand II.<ref name=SIPA/> The towers, which initially included two floors, has a modified appearance, without many of the internal divisions or roofing typical of the period. However, the location of the turrets seem to coincide with the design represented in the engravings of Duarte de Armas.

The outer walls open near Abelheira (west of Tapada dos Bichos), from a main access door, where several paths wind around the hilltop of the castle. A second ring of walls reinforces the castle with both circular and square turrets, thick wall battlements and railings, and crowned with pyramid-shaped merlons. At this second wall is the main entrance to the castle, protected by two turrets and battlements. Near these secondary walls and entrance are the main ruins of the old buildings, corresponding to the cellars, animal pens and cistern. The subterranean cistern, accessible from a three metre accessway, is 18 metres long by 6 metres wide, and 6 metres in height, where water was collected from openings on its "roof".<ref name=IGESPAR/> The interior walls are punctuated by five rectangular towers and one circular tower, surmounted by pyramidal merlons, while surrounding these structures are remnants of older constructions.<ref name=IGESPAR/> A small door, normally covered in underbrush, opens to the northern façade of the castle, corresponding to the Traitors Gate, accessing the main "military square" with the structure.<ref name=SIPA/> In the southwest corner is the highest tower, known as the royal tower.

Along the perimeter of the castle exist various bins or silos, originating from the Arab occupation, many of which are plant covered.<ref name=SIPA/>


A chapel with rectangular nave and narrow, lower presbytery lies outside the secondary wall, not too far from the entrance. These ruins were constructed of limestone and masonry, and the interior is accessible from the western or southern façades. The southern wall is highlighted by an arched doorway, supported by colonnades and decorative capitals, with vegetation or fantastical animal motifs (gryphons and basilisks).<ref name=SIPA/><ref name=IGESPAR/> The northern façade, with a 1-5 metre opening, corresponds to a primitive door, elevated owing to the accentuated terrain.<ref name=SIPA/> A triumphal arch based on double columns, based on the similar portal in the south, includes carved capitals with phytomorphic bezels and vestiges of a door. The main chapel has a cradle vault with remains of frescoes, representing a halo in the sky with a figure corresponding to the patron saint,surrounded by floral and geometric motifs, all surrounded by a frieze with geometric designs. Alongside the area designated for the oratory, is a small rectangular niche for religious equipment.<ref name=SIPA/> The fact that the chapel was located within the walls of the castle led to the tradition that the structure served as mosque prior to the Reconquista.<ref name=IGESPAR/> Although it is likely that there may have existed a place of worship for the Muslim population, there is no specific association with this building.<ref name=SIPA/><ref name=IGESPAR/>