Castle of St George

The Castle of St. George is the main castle of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, located on the highest hill in the heart of its historic downtown close to all major Lisbon hotels. The locals call the castle of St. George the cradle of their city, because they think that the capital of Portugal originates from this area. It is believed that people had lived here before the Romans. The top of the hill was used as a fortress protecting the river Tagus and its surroundings. Starting from 5th century BC this place served as a fortress of the Visigoths, and in early 8th century it was taken over by the Saracens. Many of the existing walls were built during the reign of the Moors. The rule of the Moors lasted until 1147, when Afonso Henriques forced them away and founded his kingdom. The royal palace sat here even before Lisbon became the capital of the newly born nation.

To enjoy the spectacular views of the River Tagus and the ancient Alfama district of Lisbon, walk around the esplanade and climb onto the rampart of the old fortress. The name of the Castle of St. George was given to engrave in memory the 1371 Anglo-Portuguese Treaty (George is the patron saint of England). Portugal and Britain have traditionally been allies, even though in 1961 their relationship was strained when India, a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, captured Portuguese territories of Goa, Diu, and Damao.

Close to the moat fence of the castle, there is an area with almost medieval ambience. At the entrance you will see the Belvedere Castle. The Portuguese consider this place as their “window to the antiquity.” It overlooks the Alfama, the mountains of Sintra and Monsanto, as well as the tile roofs of the Portuguese capital. The nearby park features a heroic statue of the first King Afonso Henriques with a sword and a shield in hands.

Over centuries, the castle was rebuilt several times, lastly in 20 century. The castle of St. George has a total area of 6,000 square meters, several towers, observation points, a dry moat and two parks divided by the inner wall and connected through a gate. Today, the decorated green parks inside the castle keep the archaic landscape of thick stone walls and medieval battlements, as well as Catholic and feudal iconography. Inside the palace park you can stroll among olive, pine and oak trees along with pompous peacocks. White swans with black necks gently cut the water in silence rarely disturbed by shrieks of white peacocks.

Jeronimos Monastery

In the 16th century, King Manuel I ordered to construct the Lucky Jeronimos Monastery to thank the Virgin Mary for the successful voyage of Vasco da Gama to India. The Manueline style of architecture received its name from the king and combined flamboyant Gothic, Moorish influence and elements of the emerging Renaissance. At this very place Henry Navigator originally built a small chapel devoted to St. Mary. Today, the former chapel is the Church of St. Mary in Gothic and Renaissance styles with a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator. The church is known for exquisite stone engravings depicting scenes from the life of St. Jerome. The interior of the church is richly decorated with beautiful stonework; particularly beautiful are the vaults over the nave and aisle of the church.

The western door of the church leads to a monastery founded in 1502 and represents a pinnacle of the Manueline art. The stone sculptures are fantastically intricate, and two-storey cloisters on the ground floor have a cross-vault. The interior of the secluded upper deck is not as sumptuous, but it is even more elegant and resembles a finest lace. In 1755 the monastery was damaged by an earthquake, but not completely destroyed, and then it went through a long period of restoration.

The monastery has tombstones of prominent figures of Portuguese history. The most famous of them is Vasco da Gama, and poets Gerkulano and Fernando Pessoa. The Portuguese believe that Kamoes Louis, the author of The Lusiads epical poem is buried here too. In his poem he glorified the triumph of his countrymen. The monastery was declared a national monument back in 1907, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum, founded by King Louis of Portugal in June 22, 1863 is close to the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon. This museum is believed to be one of the most important ones in Europe, reflecting the glory of the Portuguese domination on the sea. At first it was housed in a former naval school and the palace of Count Farrobo, and then it was symbolically moved to Belen, because it was from this very point on Earth, near the Church of the Virgin Mary, Vasco da Gama embarked on his legendary trip to India.

Exhibits for the Maritime Museum have been collected since the 18th century, beginning with several models of the Portuguese royal ships. Today, after more than a hundred years, the collection includes over 16,000 items, plus the photographic and other archives containing outlines and drawings of ships. The museum features an extensive collection of vessels and naval artillery and nautical instruments, reflecting the important moments from the history of the Portuguese navy, not only in the golden age of Portuguese navigation, but also in the subsequent periods. The museum has hundreds of models of sailboats dating to 15th-19th centuries, and 20-century warships, commercial vessels, fishing boats, river vessels and pleasure boats. Among the exhibits you will find the royal galley that recreates the age of luxury and wealth, decorated with gilded heads of sea dragons and sea monsters. It also shows the complete collection of Portuguese naval uniforms from 1896 to 1961.

The Maritime Museum in Lisbon reflects the development of the Portuguese navigation, which has greatly contributed to the human heritage by opening sea routes and development of global trade.

Photo by David Broad