Lisbon’s Castelo São Jorge Tour Review – History-Rich Hilltop View

Castelo São Jorge hosts 1.5+ million visitors a year, 93% of them foreigners. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Perched atop one of Lisbon’s highest hills, Castelo São Jorge hosts 1.5+ million visitors a year, 93% of them foreigners. 

 

Saint George (São Jorge) greets you as you enter the castle grounds. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

It is on the short list of must-sees, even for visitors doing a brief Lisbon stopover. 

 

You can get 360 degree views of Lisbon and surrounds from the castle heights. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

The camera obscura gives you a real-time capture of the city below. Photo: Fernando Guerra

 

Yes, the 360 degree views of the city here are a big draw—but it’s the window on this historic city’s past that makes it most memorable.

 

Our enthusiastic guide, Susana Repolho Correia, Public Relations, Press & Communication Manager for Castelo São Jorge, gave us an excellent account of the castle's history. There are two free English tours per day. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Hard though it might be for those of us who cling to Democracy, we have to grudgingly credit Portugal’s late dictator, Salazar, for preserving this remarkable historic and anthropological site.   

 

The castle is surrounded by grounds that overlook Lisbon. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

The byproduct of this dictator’s interest in creating landmarks that helped to cultivate Portuguese chauvinism, was to make significant restorations of walls and structures here that can be traced back to the 11th Century Moors, and later embellished by the Christian Kings after 1147 AD when the Moors were evicted and the first Christian Church was built.  

 

A longer tile fragment Photo: Paulo Cintra & Laura Castro Caldas

 

You can tell that these figurative tiles are of a later vintage of castle decor because they show humans and are not strictly geometric. Paulo Cintra & Laura Castro Caldas

 

How interesting to learn from our tour guide Susana that these pipes were actually used for cannibas by the soldiers relaxing near the castle. Photo: Paulo Cintra & Laura Castro Caldas

 

Later, in the 14th and 16th centuries, these walls became palace walls for the royals. 

 

in 1147 the Moors were evicted and a succession of Christian kings took over the castle - expanding and remodeling through the centuries. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Another homage to St. George (Sao Jorge). Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Actually, this site that still has archeological explorations in process, can be dated back even further to the 6th Century BC—Visigoths and then Romans. 

 

There are regular tours of the archeological site on the castle grounds, included in your admission ticket price. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Today, when you pass the castle walls per se you get to see remnants of Roman-time houses and ponder how lives were lived high on these hills so long ago.

 

From the 13th to the 16th centuries the castle was used as the royal residence, until King Manuel I moved the royal residence closer to Lisbon's downtown. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Amazingly, the houses excavated on this site during archeological excavations date that date back to Roman times still have their wall decoration motifs intact enough to be viewable. Photo: Paulo Cintra & Laura Castro Caldas

 

Up close view of decoration in excavated Roman homes. Photo: Paulo Cintra & Laura Castro Caldas

 

Like most places in this historic city, the castle’s life was re-made by the 1755 earthquake, when it became the site of the country’s first orphanage. 

 

Here we are walking in an area that was part of the castle structure at one time. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Many people come to this historic site just to see the views. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Castelo São Jorge is the kind of place where every step you take on its stone paths and along its walls tells another part of Portugal’s many centuries of history. 

 

Gargoyle decoration on a fountain. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

This is a most European site, with an antiquity that reaches farther back than the  “New World” norm most non-Native Americans in the US sense from day to day.

 

Wine vessels are also reconstructed from fragments found at the casle and on display in the permanent collection of its museum. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

The museum has assembled tile fragments to suggest the whole from which they came from. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

When the 18th Century earthquake destroyed much of Lisbon below, the castle became an orphanage

 

In the courtyard of the castle, near a tower where the camera obscura is housed. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

"Wine with a View" is a great idea, and speaks to the benefits of planning your visit closer to "cocktail hour". Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

If you like to ruminate such things with a good glass of wine, that too you will find high up on Castelo São Jorge.  “Wine with a View”, is one of two innovative businesses you find at the castle, giving you a peek at the entrepreneurial side that is growing in Portugal today, in the aftermath of the economic downturn. 

 

The ginginha, a cherry liqueur, we sampled at Castelo Sao Jorge was of superior quality.--and you get to bring your unbreakable wine glass home as a souvenir. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

If this is one of your first stops during your Portugal tour, don’t make the mistake we did, and often do at first stops, thinking we’ll find the wares we sample elsewhere.  The cherry liqueur “Ginjinha” is not to be missed and later seemed to be of superior quality when we later sampled more in its birthplace town of Obidos

 

Another entrepreneurial business at the castle sells canned fish, which is all the rage in Portugal, and which you see in many tourist sites. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

The castle also has a restaurant. Photo: Peter Kachergis

 

Alas, we missed by just a few days what sounds like the most fun time to visit Castelo São Jorge.   

 

Lovers of re-enactments should absolutely circle the (free) night during International Museum Week when many at the castle wear medieval garb. Photo: José Frade

 

If you have leeway in your trip planning, think to find out when their yearly European Museum Night is. 

 

Medieval jousting too! Photo: Susana Repolho Correia, of her warrior son

 

That’s when you get to mingle with lots of people in Medieval dress, watch jousting, dancing and other medieval entertainment--- for free.

 

Pretty convincing! These are the type garments that Vasco da Gama would have seen when he was received at the castle's Sala Ogival, when he arrived from India after discovering the sea way to India. Photo: José Frade

 

Information on hours, tours and more can be found at the Castelo São Jorge website.

 

 

 

 

 

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