São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal. By Maria Eklind – BY Wikimedia

Top 10 Facts about the Sao Jorge Castle in Lisbon


São Jorge Castle is one of Lisbon’s most symbolic landmarks. The Castle is on top of São Jorge hill, the tallest hill in Lisbon.

This beautiful Castle stands out from its surrounding neighbourhoods, Alfama and Castelo. The Castle can be spotted from anywhere in the city.

From the Castle, one can clearly see the river down below. The Castle served as a fortress but is today being used as a home, subsequently, the Castle is a tourist attraction.

The Castle ground is expanse and needs time to fully explore it. There are a small museum, a restaurant and a bar worth stopping by.

This Castle has eleven towers from which you can get the best views of the capital city. There is so much more to discover about this Castle.

Check out these top 10 facts about the São Jorge Castle in Lisbon.

1. It was occupied in the 8th century

Archaeologists believe that the first humans to live around the castle hill dates to the 8th century BC, the first fortifications were built in the 1st century BC.

The hill on which the Castle sits bears a rich history of the city of Lisbon. The fortifications on the hill were occupied by Celtic tribes   Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Moors.

Its first fortification was built at around 48 BC when Lisbon was part of the Roman municipality.

Muslim Berbers rebuilt the fortifications in the 10th century including the walls.

2. King Alfonso Henriquez, with the help of crusaders, kicked out the Moors

By Joaquim Rodrigues Braga – Wikimedia

King Alfonso took the Castle from the Moors and used it as a royal residence until 1147. The Castle covers an area about 6000 square meters wide with several towers.

He was able to take over this Castle with the help of the crusaders who were on their way then to the Holy Land.

They dedicated the Castle to the patron saint of England, Saint George. This was done to commemorate the 1371 Anglo-Portuguese pact. Hence its name, Saint George Castle.

The Castle was the royal palace until the 1755 earthquake destroyed it.

3. The castle was used as a fortified residence by Afonso III

By David Sim – Wikimedia

When Lisbon became the capital of the Kingdom of Portugal in 1255, Alfonso III lived at the Castle during his term as the governor.

Another monarch who lived at the Castle in the 14th century was King Denis I. He renovated the Castle transforming it into a Royal Palace.

King Ferdinand I ordered a wall to be built around the entire Castle. The wall was built by João Fernandes and Vasco Brás between 1373 and 1375.

It replaced the Moorish walls and went around all the unprotected parts of Lisbon. After the completion of the wall, there 77 towers and about 36 gates.

King Manuel I used the Royal Palace for the reception of Vasco da Gama who was returning from India.

4. The Palace was destroyed twice by an earthquake

By Maria Eklind – Wikimedia

In 1531, there was an earthquake in Lisbon which damaged the Castle. The Castle lay in ruins until 1569 when King Sebastian commissioned it.

He ordered the rebuilding of the royal apartments which he used as his official residence. Later in 1577, Filippo Terzi pulled down one of the towers. 

The current Royal Palace is therefore not the exact model of the original one. It is more of piecing together done overtime.

Another earthquake that severely damaged this Castle was in 1755. Little had been done to restore the old Castle, this second wave of earthquake left the Castle in ruins.  

5. The Palace served as a garrison and a learning institution at the same time

By Maria Eklind – Wikimedia

The Castle was used for different purposes. One of them is that it was once a garrison. There was a need to have more room to support the growing military force.

Between 1780 and 1807, the Castle was home to a Charitable institution known as Casa Pia. The institution provided education to poor children.

6. The Castle was named after a Saint Patron of England

Both the castle and the hill in Lisbon are named after the patron saint of England. The christening happened after the English crusaders aided King Alfonso in evicting the Moorish rulers.

Saint George had allegedly saved a virgin from a dragon. This tale has been made even more popular by the Portuguese soldiers.

When King John I married princess Philippa, he dedicated the Castle to Saint George because the tale was famous in Portugal and England.

7. An extensive renovation was done in the 20th century

By jad99 – Wikimedia

After the first earthquake that hit Lisbon, there was very little of the Castle that could be seen. This Castle that was prominent in Lisbon’s skyline was no more.

The Portuguese government restored the Castle. This was part of the commemorative celebrations marking the foundation of nationhood and restoration of independence.

Most of the old structures that survived the earthquake were demolished and new ones put up. A monument dedicated to Afonso Henriques was erected in 1947.

The monument created by Soares dos Reis was presented by the city of Porto.

The Castle offers the best views of Lisbon and River Tagus.

8. The Castle was forgotten for some time

After the Castle was destroyed in the earthquake, it was left for ruins for many years.

It became less famous as another Castle was built on the banks of River Tagus. Ribeira Palace was constructed under the orders of King Sebastian.

Most of the work on the Palace stalled after the untimely death of the King in battle.

It came back to use during the sixty years of Spanish rule when it was used as a military barracks and a prison.

9. Nicolau de Langres was tasked with the renovation

After Portugal regained its independence following the Portuguese Restoration War, they took over the restoration work at the Castle.

The Spanish government had been working on it. Nicolau de Langres was commissioned take over the design, execution and construction of a new fortification in 1648.

In 1650, Mateus do Couto, a military architect, was made to be in charge of the project. Most of the constriction work followed his plan.

They also constructed a hospital in the Castle grounds which was dedicated to Saint John of God.

10. A walk up the rampart has one of the best views of the City of Lisbon

By Maria Eklind – Wikimedia

When visiting this Castle in Lisbon, you will notice the staircases leading to the battlements.

A walk up these stairs will reward you with the best views of Lisbon’s skyline. You can also go into one of the many towers for beautiful panoramic views.

After exploring the castle one can also drop by the museum for more on the history of the Castle.