Sunday, 22 May 2016

Leaving Lisbon: A Day Trip to Sintra

Sintra dates back to Neolithic times between the 4th and 3rd century B.C. Around 49 B.C., this area became part of the Roman Galeria. During the Moorish occupation, the population became more established and connected with Lisbon, 15 miles to the west. Although this was a difficult trip during Roman and Moorish times, we were able to reach it by train from Lisbon in only 45 minutes.
Coming into the train station, we were greeted by quaint houses, restaurants and gift shops. The entire area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and we were excited to take a look at the many castles and churches in this relatively small town.
Pena Castle

Although it is possible to walk up the mountain to the castles, it is straight up for at least 1 1/2 hours, and both Bryce and I have put our hiking days behind us! A few Euros bought us a seat on the tour bus and we were on our way along the road that snaked back and forth in tight hairpin turns. At one point, the bus even had to stop and jockey back and forth a few times in order to make the turn!  Once we arrived at the Palace and gardens of Pena, the wind was so strong and cold that we had to buy sweatshirts, or we would have become one of the many frozen statues in the courtyard!

The gardens are a spectacular display of horticultural delight covering almost 85 hectares of land. Considering that this land was barren when the castle was built, this is an amazing accomplishment.

Even more amazing was the castle, which was built in sections, beginning with a chapel, built in the 12th century. In the 15th century, a convent was built on the site, which was selected due to its isolated location atop a mountain. In the 18th century, King Ferdinand II decided that this site would be the ideal spot for a palace, and undertook this project for his family to escape the summer heat of Lisbon.

Nave of the chapel
The oldest castle in Sintra is the Moorish Castle, but only the wall is still left standing. This was built around the 10th century and with its position high on the hill, offered great views of both the Atlantic and the land to the north, serving as both a strategic defense and an outpost to Lisbon. Walking along the wall was an exhilarating experience, thinking about the people who must have walked here over 1100 years ago, but my favourite was the beautiful gardens, with the birds singing and gigantic boulders lining the path.


By the time that we had visited the two castles, we were happily worn out and ready to head back to our little apartment in Lisbon, but were determined to come visit Sintra again before the end of our trip.

View from the castle wall


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