Almourol Castle (in Portuguese, Castelo de Almourol) is a unique monument in Portugal, located about 135 km from Lisbon. Built on an islet in the Tagus River, it became a symbol of the Reconquista (a historical period of almost eight centuries, during which the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula fought for dominance in the region).
When Afonso Henriques conquered the place in 1129, he came across a fortress that the Moors had called Al-Morolan. Therefore, he decided to hand it over to the Knights Templar, who in turn erected a typically medieval castle with military functions.
However, the extinction of the Templars and the end of the Reconquista caused the Almourol Castle to lose importance and be abandoned. Besides, the structure was severely damaged by the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 – even though it was restored and adapted to the romantic taste in the 19th century!
So, do you want to know more about the Almourol Castle: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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Brief History of the Almourol Castle
As I mentioned in the introduction, Almourol Castle was built on the ruins of an old Moorish fortress, after the region was conquered in 1129 by Afonso Henriques (the then Count of Portucale and the first King of Portugal, from October 5th, 1143).
As a way of thanking them for their help in combat, Afonso Henriques offered this and other military structures to the Knights Templar. Here, the role of Gualdim Pais, the 6th Grand Master of the Order of Solomon’s Temple in Portugal and founder of the castles of Almourol, Idanha-a-Nova, Monsanto, Pombal, and Tomar, stands out.
For almost two centuries, Almourol Castle also served as a checkpoint for goods boats, which crossed the Tagus River to/from Lisbon. But, like other medieval castles with guard and defense functions in the Reconquista, the building ceased to be used for military purposes as soon as the Order of Solomon’s Temple was dissolved.
The effects of the gradual desertion allied to the damage caused by the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, transformed Almourol Castle into a decadent work. Fortunately, the medieval ruins inserted in bucolic landscapes were appreciated in the 19th century, which aroused interest in the monument and its consequent recovery and valorization.
Due to its cultural value, Almourol Castle was classified as a National Heritage Site in 1910!
How to Get to Almourol Castle
Let’s suppose you want to visit Almourol Castle on a day trip from Lisbon. In that case, you can take the opportunity to discover some towns and cities in the surroundings: Vila Nova da Barquinha (5 km), Constância (6 km), Entroncamento (10 km), Abrantes (22 km), Torres Novas (24 km), Sardoal (28 km), or Tomar (30 km).
In my opinion, the fastest and most practical way to get to Almourol Castle is by car. Nonetheless, if you don’t have that possibility, you can travel by train on the Beira Baixa Line (a historic railway line, that connects the cities of Entroncamento and Guarda).
First, take the train (Alfa-Pendular, Intercidades, InterRegional, or Regional) at the Lisbon-Santa Apolónia or Lisboa-Oriente stations and get off at Entroncamento. Once at that station, you have to take another train (Regional) and get off at Tancos (2 km on foot) or Almourol (1.3 km on foot) stations.
TIP: This trip has a minimum cost of €9.55, but check all prices, timetables, lines, and services on the official website of CP – Comboios de Portugal.
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
Almourol Castle is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm (from November to February), or from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2:30 pm to 7 pm (from March to October). Nevertheless, the monument can be visited on Mondays, between March and September.
ATTENTION: The last boat passage to Almourol Castle always takes place 20 minutes before closing time!
When it comes to tickets, these have a fixed cost of €4 per person and include the boat trip (round trip), the entrance to Almourol Castle, and also a visit to CITA – Almourol Templar Interpretation Center, in the historic center of Vila Nova da Barquinha.
What to See at Almourol Castle
Alambor (or Talude)
The Alambor is an architectural solution, which consists of reinforcing the base of a wall or tower, through the construction of a kind of steep “ramp” in stone. Also called Talude, this type of defensive structure was introduced by the Knights Templar in the 12th century.
In practice, the Alambor made it difficult for the enemy to access the fortification, in addition to increasing its stability and reducing the blind spots of its defenders. In Portugal, the monument with the best example of an Alambor is the Tomar Castle – albeit the castles of Almourol, Pombal, and Soure also feature this element.
Above the Main Door, an epigraphic inscription dating from 1171 reports Gualdim Pais’ feats in the service of the Order of Solomon’s Temple (as a soldier, knight, and later Grand Master), including the construction of Almourol Castle. Inside the entrance, an information panel indicates the presence of a group of graves.
By the way, did you know that no one is sure about the origin of the toponym “Almourol”? Some historians rely on the rock formation at the site (“Al-moor” or “small stone”), while others suggest the existence of an ancient Roman city called Moron!
Inside Almourol Castle and a few meters from the Main Door, traces of the walls of old houses were found.
Now, as far as is known, Almourol received a charter in 1170, by Gualdim Pais himself. This means that Almourol Castle was inhabited by a military contingent, responsible for defending the fortification, the Tagus River, and the surrounding region, as well as its local population!
As there has never been any evidence of a settlement outside the walled enclosure (neither on the islet nor on the river banks), the most plausible option is that it was within it. And some believe that, in the mid-15th century, a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary of Almourol was erected here!
Allure (or Chemin de Ronde)
Did you know that Almourol Castle is made up of two strongholds: a lower (or exterior) enclosure and an upper (or interior) enclosure?
The lower enclosure is precisely the one I’ve described in the last paragraphs, the one accessed through the Main Door and the one where the Housing Area is located. On the other hand, the upper enclosure is guarded by a second entrance and is occupied by the imposing Keep.
Therefore, it’s natural that each of these enclosures had an autonomous Allure. Also known as the Chemin de Ronde, this open passage, very characteristic of medieval castles, circles the top of the walls and gives way to the various turrets and battlements.
Second Door (or Secondary Door)
Above the Second Door (or Secondary Door), another epigraphic inscription dating from 1171 once again praises that Gualdim Pais was the great founder of Almourol Castle. Interestingly, both epigraphs mention that the 4th Grand Master of the Order of Solomon’s Temple in Portugal was born in Braga, just like me!
The Second Door was the entrance to the defensive complex itself, that is, the one for the exclusive use of soldiers. In this area of forbidden access to the local population, there are also ten circular and semi-circular turrets, which constitute the irregular wall of Almourol Castle.
This guide to Almourol Castle ends at the Keep, a structure about 20 meters high! Of its oldest elements, the Templar Cross over the window of one of the façades (visible in the first photograph) and the Entrance Door installed 2.8 meters above the patio level still survive.
After a recent intervention works campaign, the Keep reopened to the public as a museum space. Besides the three exhibition floors (with information panels on the history of the Knights Templar and Almourol Castle), it’s possible to visit a panoramic terrace, where the views are simply breathtaking!
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