Friday, July 19: This morning I must fortify myself for a big day of castle-hopping through Sintra with a coffee and the decadent Portuguese egg tart pastry, pastel de nata, downstairs at Café Piela’s. Today’s weather is superb, cool and crisp with cornflower blue skies overhead. The owner of the café, Manuel, whose English is excellent, is chipper and welcoming and makes me feel like I’m eating breakfast at home. It’s so lovely when traveling alone to have someone who makes you feel like you’re a part of the family, and not some pariah. 🙂
I walk straightaway to the bus station where I catch the Scotturb Pena Sightseeing circular route bus (#434) to Castelo dos Mouros.
It’s quite a long walk through a fern and moss-filled forest up to the Castelo dos Mouros, or the Moorish Castle.
When I reach the castle, and climb up on the ramparts, I am stunned by the view. This is the second heart-stopping experience I have on my journey, the first being my initial encounter with the Mezquita in Cordoba (andalucía: córdoba’s stunning mezquita). I know it sounds corny, but I feel a lump in my throat and actually feel like I’m going to cry! It is so majestic and such a gorgeous panorama that it’s unbelievable that a place such as this actually exists. There’s a wonderful breeze and the air is crisp and I can just imagine the Moors enjoying their mountaintop view over their kingdom all those centuries ago.
The castle is an irregularly planned military outpost that follows a 450-meter perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff. 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 (Wikipedia: Castle of the Moors (Sintra)).
From the castle walls, I can see Sintra-Vila below with the chimneys of the Palácio Nacional da Pena.
According to Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, the origins of the castle date back to the 8th century with the Muslim invasion from the north of Africa. The site of the castle provided a suitable vantage point with views over the estuary of the river Tejo and the plains to the north of Lisbon, with the aim of controlling the strategic land routes linking the Mafra, Sintra, Cascais and Lisbon. Arab chronicles depict the Sintra region as being very rich in cultivated fields and the Castelo dos Mouros was one of the most important castles in the region, more important than the castle of central Lisbon.
The initial crusade led by King Alfonso VI of Castile captured the Castelo dos Mouros in 1093 but with limited forces was driven out the following year. The castle flourished with the return of the Moors and defensive fortifications were improved.
The increase in fortifications was not enough to repel the second much larger crusade which freed Lisbon (and then Sintra) from Moorish rule in 1147. The crusader army led by Afonso Henrique’s army was comprised of drunks and thieves, who upon liberating Lisbon promptly sacked the capital. Sintra and the Castelo dos Mouros withstood longer than Lisbon but succumbed to the siege and sheer numbers of the crusaders’ army. Afonso Henriques and his son D. Sancho both strengthened the castle’s defenses but the royal court favored Lisbon. The castle remained in the background, with its prestige steadily declining. By the early 15th century, the only inhabitants were Jewish settlers. With the Jews’ expulsion from Portugal in the mid-15th century, the castle was abandoned (Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra).
Much of the Castelo dos Mouros was reconstructed during the 19th century as part of King Ferdinand II’s transformation of the Pena Palace and surrounding area.
I can also see the fairy tale-like Quinta de Regaleira and its grounds.
On an adjacent mountain, I can see the Palácio Nacional da Pena, which I will visit after leaving here.
After leaving here, I catch the Scotturb bus on its circular route to the Palácio Nacional da Pena.