The Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros)
Looking up from our pool toward the mountain, next to Pena Palace, the Castle of the Moors is erected. Well, it looks like it’s right next to it but in fact it is not. They are both up the mountain, anyway, and the Castle of the Moors winds over two ridges of the mountain, and is one of my favourite places in Sintra – gorgeous in the morning when the day breaks and the mist comes through; gorgeous during the day with fantastic views to the other side of Lisbon, to Mafra and to the sea; and gorgeous in the night with the humidity rising and the birds calling.
The Castle was constructed during the 8th and 9th century, during the period of Arab occupation of the Iberian Penisula. After Afonso Henriques’ forces conquered Lisbon in 1147, the castle voluntarily surrendered to Christian forces. A small group of people inhabited the Castle and constructed a chapel of São Pedro de Penaferrim near the castle walls.
The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 did considerable damage to the chapel and the stability of the scastle, already damaged by a huge fire started by a lightning. In 1840.
Ferdinad ll of Portugal took the task to recuperating it. True to his romantic style, he consolidated the walls, reforested the spaces, created nooks and manicured spaces, and conserved the chapel. Many recuperation projects have since taken place, the most recent by Monte da Lua, the organization that takes care of Parks and Palaces of Sintra, including more fortification works, recuperation and lighting of paths and walkways and recuperation of the outer walls of the Castle. The chapel is being restored and there are archeological excavations on site. New paths through the mountain are being finished for greater access to the Castle. The surroundings of the Castle are now almost as nice as the Castle itself.
How to get to the Castle? You can drive, take a bus, a horse and carriage or walk.
f you drive, you can leave your car in the main road and walk from the ticket booth about 400 meters through a beautifully cared for forest-garden park to the Castle. Same if you take the bus 434 up. If you take the horse and carriage option, the carriage will stop by the gates of Pena Park where you continue about 400 meters through a fantastic foot path up to the perimeter of the Castle and the ticket booth.
Walking – the best way to take in Sintra mountain.
There are two distinct ways to walk up, in addition to the obvious road. A foot path starts up by the Santa Maria church. It is quite steep in the beginning, leveling off after a while.
Gorgeous views on the way, tall trees and huge boulders aline the path. From the Historic Center it is about a 30 minute climb to the Castle. The other way would be to start on the ‘Pena Ramp’ opposite of the Seteais Palace through the beautiful forest and continue on the newly redone footpath passing the Pena Park. I would suggest to take this option up and the first mentioned option down.
It takes about 10-15 minutes from the Historic Center to Seteais and another 30 minutes to the Moorish Castle.
Tickets – You can buy your ticket from the Tourism office in town prior to hiking up so you don’t have to worry about finding the ticket booth. If you plan to visit other palaces during your Sintra visit, ask for a combined ticket, it does make it much more economical. Also family, student, senior citizen and group discounts are available.
Regarding timing, plan at least an hour and a half for your visit of the Castle and the surroundings. There are always less visitors the first thing in the morning.
A point of interest, or a word of caution: the walls have been reconstructed, so they are safe to walk. However, they are high and do not have safety-netting or acrylic walls around them – they are in there natural state, which to me is great! Just be careful with small children – and with yourself, if you are weary of hights. Stay close to the walls and touch them to avoid vertigos!
Very soon they will be opening a rappell line from the Pena Park to the Moorish castle, with several tree-top stops on the way! This adventure tourism is ecological and for sure will have some great views on the way!