A castle built by the Moors, taken by the Vikings, and conquered by the King of Portugal

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Castle of the Moors. Author: Alex LA. CC BY 2.0

The charming Portuguese town of Sintra is famous for its fairytale palaces and enchanting gardens. Although Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are the highlights of the hilly region, the Moorish Castle has recently gained the attention it deserves. The castle lacks the extravagance of the other two palaces, but that doesn’t make it unworthy of a visit. On the contrary, the unique structure is a perfect spot for every history lover.

The Castle of the Moors, or Castelo dos Mouros, was built in the 8th and 9th century by the North African Moors during their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, hence its name. The Moors chose a strategic military location high in the mountains over the River Tagus. Once it was completed, the castle was of great significance for the Moors and remained so until the end of their rule.

The Norwegian Viking Sigurd I Magnusson, a king better known as Sigurd the Crusader, took over the castle in 1108. The Vikings were headed to Jerusalem and as soon as they left the castle, it was once again in the hands of the Moors. Finally, after a couple of attempts to expel the Moors from the castle and the country itself, it was conquered by the King of Portugal, Afonso I “the Conqueror” Henriques, in 1147.

Archeological excavations at the site have discovered remains of a mosque and a few houses that used to be inhabited by the North African Muslims. On the location where once the mosque stood,  Afonso I “the Conqueror” Henriques built a small chapel. Although it remains undiscovered until today, one legend has it that under the cistern is the burial site of one of the powerful North African Kings.

The monarchs of Portugal continuously used the castle; however, it wasn’t as important as it had been during the Moorish rule. The last king of Portugal believed to have used the castle was Fernando I. The monarchs kept the original Moorish architecture of the castle but made small alterations. After the 14th century, it was neglected. For a short period, Jewish families lived in the castle. However, it was once again abandoned after they were banished from the country.

The Moorish Castle didn’t see any improvements in the following centuries. In fact, its condition has only gotten worse. Vegetation took over the castle and a big fire damaged most of the towers and rooms. Also, the tremendous earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 affected the architecture of the castle. But no one was willing to repair it and everything was indicating that nature would eventually destroy the castle. And so it would have probably ended up if it weren’t for King Ferdinand II.

 In 1842, he built the Pena Palace and enjoyed looking at the Moorish Castle from his residence. However, the condition of the medieval fortress troubled the King, so he started to make plans to restore it. Ferdinand II was a great admirer of the arts, and the castle was his favorite spot for painting. Everyone who has visited the castle would be unsurprised by this fact.

It has breathtaking views: from one side is the magnificent Pena Palace, and on the other is the oldest palace in Portugal, the National Palace of Sintra. Beautiful landscapes and the fairytale town of Sintra beneath the fortress are also part of the unforgettable panoramic views. And when the weather permits, it is possible to see the Atlantic Ocean from the highest spot of the castle, known as the King’s Tower.

Ferdinand II liked the Moorish Castle very much and did everything he could to maintain it. In the 20th century, it was once more restored as part of the commemoration of the foundation of Portugal. Archeological excavations continue to this day, and so far the archeologists have also discovered a Christian graveyard and many artifacts on the site that are now on display in the castle. Today, the remarkable Morish Castle is a National Monument, open to visitors and since 1995 has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/01/19/moorish-castle-portugal-2/

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The Neo-Gothic Santa Justa lift in Lisbon, inaugurated by royalty in 1901, elevates its visitors to a gorgeous vista

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In the last decade, Lisbon has become one of the most popular cities in Europe. It takes only one visit to this European gem to understand why: pleasant climate, delicious food and wine, enjoyable music evenings, and a myriad of sights.

Moreover, this so-called City of Seven Hills offers spectacular panoramic views over its picturesque architectural structures. Lisbon’s seven hills have had a crucial influence on the urbanization and intra-city transportation systems.

The viewpoints, or miradouros in Portuguese, can be found in lots of places around Lisbon, however, there is one popular tourist hotspot which takes visitors to a unique belvedere–the ornate elevator Santa Justa or Elevador de Santa Justa (Port.)

Light post in Lisbon, beside the “Elevador de Santa Justa”.

In Lisbon, there are four historic elevators that are national monuments-the Lift of Glory (1885), the Ascensor de Bica (1892), and Ascensor de Lavra (1884), although the Santa Justa, a 45-meter construction in Neo-Gothic style, is the most attractive. This lift was built in the 19th century and opened in 1902 when wrought iron was considered both a construction material and art form. The work began two years prior to the opening in order to replace the initial animal-powered inclined rail lift with a vertical elevator. In 1901, King Carlos inaugurated the lift, which became fully operational the following year.

Lisbon, Portugal – May 14: The Santa Justa Lift in Lisbon on May 14, 2014. Elevador di Santa Justa – an elevator lift in Lisbon,

The construction of the Santa Justa was funded by the royal house, and on the opening day over 3,000 tickets were sold. By the end of the first year after its opening, over half a million passengers were estimated to have been in the lift, so its popularity flourished and kept on rising.

Santa Justa elevator in Lisbon Portugal during day of autumn

The elevator Santa Justa’s structure is embellished with appealing Neo-Gothic arches and geometrical patterns, while its inside includes two wooden carriages that transport passengers up the steep hill in the Baixa district to the ruins of the Carmo convent and church through the exit at the upper level. In the past, this lift was a very useful service, which eased the difficulty in climbing up the steep Carmo Hill. However, nowadays it’s one of the most valuable landmarks in Lisbon.

Close up on Santa Justa elevator in Lisbon Portugal during day of autumn

Elevador de Santa Justa was designed by the architect Raoul Mesnier de Ponsard, the former apprentice and civil engineer of the now celebrity architect Gustav Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. When Ponsard finished his studies, he returned to his hometown and decided to put his knowledge into practice.

Famous Santa Justa elevator in the Baixa District in Lisbon, Portugal, 19th century project by Raul Mesnier de Ponsard

This fact explains the similarities concluded between the Elevador de Santa Justa and the Eiffel Tower and the epithet “the Eiffel Tower of Portugal.” The lift includes two cabins which can carry 25 people at once, both decorated with wood panels and brass fittings that take off every morning early at around 7 AM and finish work at 11 PM.

Famous Iron Santa Justa Lift (or Carmo Elevator) in Lisbon, Portugal

Initially, the elevator was powered by steam, but since 1907 it has been using electricity with a safer and cleaner motor which still powers the lift. When visitors reach the top, they step on the platform which can be reached by a spiral case, and relax with a coffee in the cafe while drifting away into the magnificent view of the Baixa neighborhood, the Rossio square or the castle on the opposite hill. At night, the Santa Justa belvedere becomes a real romantic oasis in the crowded urban Portuguese jungle.

Lisbon, Santa Justa Elevator at night

In 1973, the Elevador de Santa Justa came under public ownership and was taken over by the Carris Corporation, the executive manager of Lisbon’s tram network. This act has integrated the elevator in the public network of the city, thus, today, a ride on the lift can be obtained with the 24-hour public transport ticket purchased at any metro station. The Santa Justa is open seven days a week and works around 16 hours a day. In 2002, Elevador de Santa Justa, along with the Gloria, Bica, and Lavra cable railways, were all recognized as national monuments.

The authentic ambiance of Santa Justa continues even after its closing hours in the summer with street music bands that perform in front of the lift’s entrance, entertaining the late night audience who enthusiastically enjoys the colorful vibes and sensations of Lisbon.

By Magda Origjanska