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Castle of the Moors at Sintra Portugal | by Terry Kearney
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Castle of the Moors at Sintra Portugal

The Castle of the Moors is a hilltop medieval castle located in the central Portuguese civil parish of Santa Maria e São Miguel, in the municipality of Sintra. Taken by Christian forces from the Moors after the fall of Lisbon, it was an important strategic point during the Reconquista, and classified as a National Monument, part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


The castle was constructed during the 8th to 9th century, during the period of Arab occupation of the Iberian peninsula, as the central place in an territory that was immeniently agricultural, and which was necessary to protect its population.


In 1031, after the loss of Córdoba to the Almoravid dynasty, the king of Badajoz opted to transfer to Alfonso VI of León and Castile, a few territories on the Iberian peninsula (among them Sintra) in order to gain an alliance with the Christian king. This transfer did not result in any security, and the castle was lost to the invading Almovorid.


After the conquest of Lisbon (1147) by forces loyal to Afonso Henriques, the castle surrendered voluntarily to Christian forces. Afonso Henriques confided the castle's security to 30 inhabitants, conceding them privileges across the foral (charter) signed by the monarch in 1154. The charter suggested the that settlers should occupy and inhabit the castle, as a mechanism for guaranteeing the regions security and development.


During the second half of the 12th century, the chapel constructed within the walls of castle became the parish seat. This was followed by the remodeling and construction under the initiative of King Sancho I of Portugal.


In 1375, King Ferdinand I of Portugal, under the counsel of João Annes de Almada, ordered the rebuilding of the castle. While the structure was well fortified by 1383, its military importance was progressively diminishing, as more and more, the inhabitants were abandoning the castle for the old village of Sintra.

While the chapel was still being used a centre of religious activities at the beginning of the 15th century, by 1493, this chapel was abandoned and later only used by the small Jewish community of the parish. This was followed in the 16th century by the transfer of the ecclesiastical parish of São Pedro, from the castle to the new parochial church in the village. The Jews occupying and using the structures in the castle were expelled by Manuel I of Portugal, and the castles was completely abandoned.


The 1755 Lisbon earthquake caused considerable damage to the chapel and affected the stability of the castle. Visiting the chapel, Francisco de Almeida Jordão described the chapel (in 1768) as having a "principal door in the east, and in the south another smaller door, and a window...An addition to a painted image on the altar, there was another of rock which, already exists in the hermitage of Santa Eufémia, where they took it". An 1830 lithograph by Burnett immortalized the chapels place in the Castle.


By 1838, the towers were already in ruins, when in 1840 Ferdinand II of Portugal took up the task of conserving and improving the condition of the castle, in which he committed 240 réis annually.[3] He consolidated the walls, reforested the spaces, created nooks and manicured spaces and conserved the chapel.Along the south flank of the chapel he built a monument to collect the bones discovered during the public works, planting a tree in the central nave of the chapel. These reforms in the enclosure were oriented by Baron von Eschewege, but likely made the archaeological recuperation of the territory considerably difficult.


At the end of the 19th century, the administrator of the Forestry Service, Carlos de Nogueira, authorized several projects in the castle and chapel.

In 1939, the DGEMN becomes involved in the reconstruction of the castle walls, in addition to the lateral door of the chapel.

With an eye towards a fledgling tourist market, in 1954 a few of the cliffs were cleared to establish a picnic area near the castle, and in 1965, a transformer was installed to provide illumination.

In 1979 archaeological excavations in the Chapel of São Pedro begin by the cultural services of Portugal, which discovered the existence of medieval funerary tombs, dating to the end of the 12th, beginning of the 13th, centuries. A dispatch by the Ministry of Culture, on 26 June 1996, declared the area of the Castle as a zone of special interest

During the summer of 1986, scouts were involved in projects to consolidate the walls with cement and clean the grounds, supported by the CMS.

In 2001 there are various interventions associated with cleaning the property, clearing undergrowth and forest overgrowth, and the installation of an electrical box along one of the walls.





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Taken on March 13, 2014