The Castelo de São Jorge is located high above Lisbon and offers an excellent view over the city. You can visit the fortress and castle ruins daily.
Castelo de São Jorge Love at Second Sight?
On our first visit to Lisbon, we were at the entrance to the Castelo, but for various reasons we didn’t go inside. Although the Castelo de São Jorge is one of the main sights of the city, I was sceptical at the time whether the entrance fee was worth the visit.
Admittedly, I also wavered during our revisit to the city. 10,- € per person is not exactly cheap and even with the LisboaCard you don’t get a discount. The waiting time at the ticket office was quite long – so it’s better to buy tickets online in advance.
Would the visit develop into “love at second sight”? I was curious.
Castelo de São Jorge through the ages
The entire site is about 6000 m² in size. During excavations, researchers have found Phoenician, Roman and Moorish remains.
The castle that once stood here was built by the Moors. In 1147, Alfonso the Conqueror took it and from then on the rulers used it as a royal castle. The old buildings were modified and extended to accommodate the king, his court and the bishop, as well as the Royal Archives in the Torre do Tombo.
Between the 14th and 16th centuries, the Castelo was the place where famous national and international personalities were received, lavish parties were held and kings were acclaimed.
With the integration of Portugal into the Spanish Crown, in 1580, the Castelo de São Jorge took on a military character. The function of the castle was to house and protect the military forces, and in case of encirclement, the city’s elites who lived in the fortress.
In 1755, the earthquake in the city almost completely destroyed the castle. During the reconstruction, many new buildings were erected on the existing ruins. In the 19th century, the site was used for military purposes.
Between 1938 and 1940, major renovations took place throughout the area. In the process, the workers “discovered” the forgotten remains of the castle and the traces of the old Royal Palace. They succeeded in preserving the old constructions and the city made them accessible to the public.
What can you see?
After passing through the entrance, we arrived at a large open space that ends directly on the steep slope above the city. For me, this place was the real highlight of the tour.
What a magnificent view over the city. From up here, you can see the “wild” city very well. The houses are nested and so I could hardly see the narrow streets and alleys of the city. From up here, it looks as if everyone built where there was space and built the way they liked it. I think that makes the city super interesting when you stroll through the narrow streets and look at the different houses.
Afterwards, it is recommended to visit the permanent exhibition. Here you can learn about the history of the city and the Castelo de São Jorge. Guided tours are also offered at certain times to provide more detailed information about the complex.
What remains of the palace…
There is not much left of the former palace complex. As we wander through the grounds of the fortress, we come across remains of walls everywhere, for example from a former ground floor of a building or what were once storage rooms, kitchens or horse stables.
There are remains of ancient buildings and a cistern elsewhere on the large site. In this area, you can still see a small door on the north castle wall. This is called the “Door of Betrayal” and formed the entrance or exit of secret messengers.
At some points in the grounds it is possible to walk along the existing fortress walls. From there, you can look out into the empty courtyards or the surroundings of the complex.
Some of the towers of the complex have been preserved to this day: Keep Tower, Wall Tower or Tower of the Royal Archives, Cistern Tower and Saint Lawrence Tower. The Wall Tower has housed a darkroom since 1998, which provides different and detailed views of Lisbon.
The grounds are ideal for a short walk. There are flowers everywhere, a wide variety of trees (cork trees, olive trees…) and peacocks walk past. There are numerous benches for a break.
Was the visit worthwhile?
It depends on what you expect. We liked the magnificent view of the city. I was a little disappointed by the remains of the palace complex, but if there is no more, you can’t show more. Maybe an audio guide (available in English) would have explained more, I saw relatively few information boards.
Costa do Castelo,
1100-178 Lissabon, Portugal
daily: 9-19 Uhr