Perched atop of a giant hill overlooking Sintra is Castelo dos Mouros, the Castle of the Moors.
I started my journey at the base of the mountain in the village of Sintra. It is a bit of a hike to the site from Sintra (just over 3 kilometres of inclines and stairs) but the castle’s location within the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park made for enjoyable scenery and phenomenal lookouts along the way.
When the mossy walls and rocky ruins began to appear, the location started to look more fantastical.
Before passing under the entrance gate and into the castle, I had to pass by some creepy medieval burial memorials. Aside from these small towers-for-the-dead, during excavations in 1979 archaeologists found people buried underground all over the site, from Jewish to Muslim to Christian.
Once through the main gate, I found myself in a large courtyard surrounded by several stone towers, huge walls, old stables and a smaller gate known as the Door of Betrayal. Built by the Muslim Moorish leaders in the 8th and 9th centuries, Castelo dos Mouros was recaptured by the Christians during the fall of Lisbon in 1147 and became a strategic site during the Reconquista.
The castle’s original purpose was to protect the surrounding agricultural peoples, since its location allows for an easy view over the village of Sintra, right through to the ocean.
By the 16th century the castle was completely abandoned by the Christians, being further damaged in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.
The towers were reportedly in ruins in 1838, compelling King Ferdinand II of Portugal to the task of restoring the castle in 1840.
Walking atop of the stone walls was my favourite part of the castle. The whole ambience is completely and undeniably medieval. This was where sentries guarded over not only the fortification, but also over the surrounding villages. In 1108, King Sigurðr Jórsalafari of Norway, also known as Sigurd the Crusader, tried unsuccessfully to capture the castle which he saw while passing along the shores on his way to the Holy Land.
The walls continue for a fair distance, rising higher and higher along with the natural landscape of the mountain. Of course, I never back down from a challenge to climb to the top of a castle or mountain, so I decided then and there that I was going to get to the very tippity-top of the tallest tower.
It is extraordinarily windy from the top of that wall! However, anyone willing to make it all the way up to the very tallest tower is going to be rewarded with two great views. This first is to the north, looking back onto the rest of the castle and over Sintra beyond.
And looking south it’s also possible to see across over to neighbouring, quirky Pena Palace.
I loved visiting the Castelo dos Mouros! It is the most medieval-feeling castle I have ever visited. I was expecting to see a knight around every twist and turn of the wall, its architecture complete with arrow notches and parapet crenellations (those up-and-down zigzag parts on top of medieval walls, you learn something new everyday!). It was now time to move onto my next castle for the day – that crazy coloured fortress that I could see from the very top of Castelo dos Mouros’ tower walls, Pena Palace.