The impressively sited Castelo is perhaps Lisbon’s most splendid monument, an enjoyable place to spend a couple of hours, wandering amid the ramparts looking down upon the city. Beyond the main gates stretch terraces, walkways, viewpoints and peacocks, all lying within heavily restored Moorish walls. At first, the Portuguese kings took up residence within the castle – in the Alcáçova, the Muslim palace – but by the time of Manuel I this had been superseded by the new royal palace on Terreiro do Paço. Of the Alcáçova only a much-restored shell remains. This now houses a small multimedia exhibition detailing the history of the city together with archeological finds. Built into the ramparts, the Tower of Ulysses contains a Câmara Escura, a periscope focusing on sights round the city with English commentary – though the views are almost as good from the neighbouring towers.
Outside the castle complex but still within the castle’s outer walls is the tiny medieval quarter of Santa Cruz, still very much a village in itself, with its own church, school and bathhouse. Just below the castle to the north and west sprawls the old Mouraria quarter, to which the Moors were relegated on their loss of the town. North of the castle, meanwhile, Calçada da Graça leads up to the Graça district and the Miradouro da Graça, which offers stunning views across the city.Read More
The siege of Lisbon
The siege of Lisbon
A small statue of Afonso Henriques, triumphant after the siege of Lisbon, stands at the main entrance to the Castelo de São Jorge. It was an important victory and led to the Muslim surrender at Sintra. It was not, however, the most Christian or glorious of Portuguese exploits. A full account of the siege survives, written by one Osbern of Bawdsley, an English priest and Crusader, and its details, despite the author’s judgemental tone, direct one’s sympathies to the enemy.
The attack, in the summer of 1147, came through the opportunism and skilful management of Afonso Henriques, already established as “King” at Porto, who persuaded a large force of French and British Crusaders to delay their progress to Jerusalem for more immediate and lucrative rewards. The Crusaders – scarcely more than pirates – came to terms and in June the siege began. Osbern records the Archbishop of Braga’s demand for the Moors to return to “the land whence you came” and, more revealingly, the weary and contemptuous response of the Muslim spokesman: “How many times have you come hither with pilgrims and barbarians to drive us hence? It is not want of possessions but only ambition of the mind that drives you on.”
For seventeen weeks the castle and inner city stood firm, but in October its walls were breached and the citizens – including a Christian community coexisting with the Muslims – were forced to surrender. The pilgrims and barbarians, flaunting the diplomacy and guarantees of Afonso Henriques, stormed into the city, cut the throat of the local bishop and sacked, pillaged and murdered Christian and Muslim alike. In 1190 a later band of English Crusaders stopped at Lisbon and, no doubt confused by the continuing presence of Moors who had stayed on as New Christians, sacked the city a second time.