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Sintra: Castelo dos Mouros
Castle of the Moors
Last Wednesday, 28 April, was Denise’s birthday. When you get to be our age, you really don’t need any physical things. So I decided to focus on an experience…a day in Sintra.
Hired a Driver
I contacted Victor, the driver that had helped us get from the airport to our first apartment and when we moved to our second (temporary) apartment. He really isn’t a “moving” guy, though he will do that. His real job is as a personal tour guide. It would have been possible to use the public bus system to get from Cascais to Sintra. In fact, it would only be a 37-minute ride. But after the ride, there is a 16-minute walk, straight uphill. More importantly, I wanted the day to be special…I thought an expert guide and door-to-door service was appropriate. As it turns out, we were able to avoid the 16-minute walk because Victor is a registered tour guide. The road to the castle is closed to vehicular traffic. But after showing his credentials we were able to proceed in comfort. When we got to the parking lot…we again experienced the realities of touring a country during a pandemic.
Castelo dos Mouros
Built in the 8th and 9th centuries, the castle had strategic importance to Muslim Iberia as it was centrally located. The siege of Lisbon in 1147 was a military action that brought Lisbon and the surrounding area under Portuguese control. During this time the Moorish overloads were expelled and the occupants of the castle surrendered voluntarily. Settlers were placed inside the castle, but over the years more and more people moved from the castle into Sintra. Various attempts were made to maintain or restore the castle, but the 1755 Lisbon earthquake caused considerable damage.
King Ferdinand II, who ruled from 1816 to 1885 restored some of the castle as he saw the natural setting as a part of a garden for his Pena Palace. He encouraged explorers to return with trees and flowers that make walking through the castle a magical experience.
A Foggy Day
The castle is located within the limits of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, in the Sintra Mountains, where the slopes can be up to 40% gradient. As is often the case in Sintra, it was a foggy, gray day. We were fortunate that we only were exposed to a brief (5-minute) shower. For that reason, I have found a stock photo of the castle which I have inserted below. You can buy a ticket and ascend the castle tower, but we would not have been able to see anything, so this part of our tour was free.
Had we been standing at this vantage point, I assure you we would have not seen even the outline of the castle. However, the lack of other visitors and the weather added a bit of mystery as we walked along the cobblestone paths.
One of the spots that Victor pointed out was the sacred place of bones shown above. Here, he explained, all the occupants of the castle were buried together regardless of their status or rank. “In this place, they are all one…as they should be”, he explained. It seemed like a particularly Portuguese thing to say.
This was just our first stop of the day. Tomorrow, stop #2…Pena Palace.