St George’s Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

St George’s Castle

Lisbon, Area Metropolitana de Lisboa, Portugal

St George’s Castle in Lisbon is a medieval castle which once served as a royal palace.

Amy Irvine

15 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St George’s Castle

St George’s Castle (Castelo de São Jorge) in Lisbon is a medieval citadel resting on top of the city’s highest hill, overlooking the Tagus River. It is one of the finest and most iconic symbols of Lisbon and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.

History of St George’s Castle

The hill on which St George’s Castle sits was inhabited as early as the 6th century BC, with the first fortifications dating back to the 2nd century BC. This hill was of military importance to a number of peoples, including Lisbon’s indigenous Celtic and Iberian tribes as well as the Romans, the Visigoths (5th century) and the Moors (mid-11th century).

The earliest mentions of St George’s Castle date back to the 11th century, when Arab geographers mention it defending the ‘quasabah’ or ‘fortress’. In 1147, St George’s Castle was conquered from the Moors by Portugal’s first king, Afonso Henriques helped by crusaders as part of the Seige of Lisbon.

In 1255, when Lisbon became the capital city, St George’s Castle served as the royal palace and was later renovated by King Dinis I. The castle was dedicated to Saint George, patron Saint of England, by King João I in the 14th century, commemorating the 1371 Anglo-Portuguese pact.

However, St George’s Castle began to lose its stature in the 16th century, when King Manuel I built the Ribeira Palace, particularly when St George’s Castle was damaged by earthquakes in 1531 and 1755 and never properly rebuilt.

A major restoration project of the Castle took place in the 1940’s which completely rebuilt the ramparts, embellished the watchtowers and added gardens to the courtyards.

St George’s Castle today

Today, people mostly visit St George’s Castle for its beautiful and breathtaking views across Lisbon on Ulysses Tower (which houses the Câmara Escura, a periscope that projects sights from around the city). The silhouette of the Castle stands out both by day and when illuminated at night.

A visit to São Jorge Castle will take a whole morning since the site is extensive – apart from the Castle with its 11 towers, there is a small museum which houses exhibitions, including a multimedia presentation of the city’s history. There are also a handful of courtyards, battlements and ramparts to explore, as well as pretty streets within the outer castle walls and around the Rua de Santa do Castelo. Also visible are the remnants of an old Moorish wall, reconstructed by the King Ferdinand I in the 1370’s.

More recently, Phoenician, Greek and Carthaginian ruins have been found in the area and are being uncovered.

St George’s Castle features as one of our top tourist attractions of Portugal.

Getting to St George’s Castle

The castle is located on the top of São Jorge hill (which houses two of the city’s neighbourhoods, Alfama and Castelo), and is also a short 428 metre walk from Lisbon Cathedral.

Bus Castelo, line 737 departs from Lisbon’s Figueira Square, which takes you to the castle. Alternatively take the Miradouro Santa Luzia tram, line 28.

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