Portugal’s Castles and Palaces

On our recent trip to Portugal we encountered several castles. One of the first area’s we visited in Lisbon was the old city of Alfama. The neighborhood dates back to the Medieval times and includes Moorish influences. Its winding streets proved nothing like the uphill trudge to Castelo, where the castle of St. George held forth on top of the hill. The views of the city and this uphill walk explained why this represented an ideal location for a fortification.



Amazingly, this fort served the Romans, the Visigoths who displaced them. The Arabs who took over the Iberian Peninsula, and finally the Christians. It served as the Royal Palace for the Portuguese during the late 1300s.




Another castle of the Arab and early Portuguese eras, served the walled city of Obidos. The best thing about the city involved being able to walk the old wall from the entry gate to the castle.


The sun baked the area in heat and you could feel sweat as we made our way. We reached the end where the castle stood. This palace lacked the charm of St. George’s but at least one  took solace in the presence of instruments of torture around the other side.


In the medieval city of Coimbra, the palace received a unique role, it became a university, and the University of Coimbra is well-respected one at that. Here’s the view the balcony of the palace offered:


The palace served as a location of class rooms, the former quarters of servants provided more classrooms and dorms. For those of us who earned doctorate degrees, defending in a room such as this with the university’s deans looking down upon you, daunting.



A second view from the outside balcony revealed the layout.


The notable library, known as Biblioteca Joanina, on the far right-hand side of the photo can be seen in these photos taken on the sly.




Some of us who consider ourselves rebellious and rule breakers might have taken a different route at this university. The library’s basement served as an academic prison for students who broke the rules. The student stayed in the stark concrete areas talking with no one and a guard escorted him to classes using the back stairs.

By far the most picturesque location for castles and palaces is Sintra. In the hills, an hour outside of Lisbon, Sintra attracted attention 200 years ago when the Romantics wrote wistfully about its charms. This UNESCOWorld Heritage Site, became the center of European nineteenth century Romantic architecture. But the castle served as a Arabic remnant that the Christians isolated during the ninth century. This photo illustrates the remnants that remain of the castle.


This view came from the top of the Royal Palace built under the reign of Queen Maria of Portugal (1834-1853) who left many of the details of the Palace de Pena to her husband, King-Consort Ferdinand. Taking over the remains of  the 16th century monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome, the royal pair hired an architect Baron von Eschwege to design the place. However, the palace had too many Germanic elements in its initial stages and five years later, the architect and Ferdinand shaped the palace more toward the history of their country and the royal pair’s taste.


It did seem to have a theme park look but the feel definitely became real as one entered inside through the archway. The tile felt very Portuguese and the Manueline, Romantic, Moorish and other styles worked together.


All servants and the royals walked around the palace using the cloisters which contained a great deal of elaborate design elements. This tile is different from the outside and there are several creatures whose mouths provide water drainage and visages scare away evil spirits.


Inside the three generations of kings and queens who used the palace had many rooms, including separate bedrooms, baths and offices. 100_3851


What’s a palace without great grounds. hidden amidst the acres of land were a chalet, three duck ponds, a small lake and a gazebo.


Marvelous trees lined the paths.


After stopping for lunch we headed to a palace from the late 1800’s built on land recently sold in 1892 to Carvalho Monteiro, who inherited family money made from precious stones and coffee from Brazil. A lawyer trained at the University of Coimbra, Monteiro and his architect Luigi Manini, build Quinta da Regaleira, to display symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies.

We went through the palace and chapel at hare speed.




We looked forward to taking on the amazing grounds. These neatly sculpted winding paths gave way to a forest toward the eastern end of the park.


The grounds included tunnels, initiation wells and lakes, fountains and even an aquarium.


One well carried the reputation of representing Dante’s circles of Hell. As you walked around and around, ever descending into the darkness one was left to wonder.






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