The Sabugal Castle is one of the most beautiful castles in Portuguese Gothic architecture. It’s located in the city and municipality of Sabugal (in the Guarda district) – a territory that belonged to the Kingdom of León until 1297, the year in which King Dinis signed the Treaty of Alcañices.
During the Napoleonic Wars at the beginning of the 19th century, the Sabugal Castle served as the headquarters for Portuguese and English soldiers, who managed to prevent the advance of French troops led by General André Masséna.
The Sabugal Castle is also known as the “Castelo das Cinco Quinas” (ie, “Castle of the Five Corners”), due to the unusual shape of its Keep, which has a pentagonal floor plan.
So, do you want to know more about the Sabugal Castle: Best Tips For Visiting In 2023? Keep reading!
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Brief History of Sabugal Castle
In the place where today the historic center of Sabugal is located (including its Castle), numerous archaeological remains were found, dating back to the prehistoric period. After that, this promontory of the Serra da Malcata (ie, Malcata Mountain Range) was also occupied by the Romans, Visigoths, and Muslims.
At the time of the Christian Reconquista, this region was allegedly conquered by King Afonso Henriques but remained in possession of the Kingdom of León. At the end of the 12th century, King Afonso IX of León founded the village of Sabugal, giving it a Charter and ordering the construction of the first military fortress.
The lands of Riba-Côa were always disputed between the Kingdom of Portugal and the Kingdom of León (or Kingdom of Castile and León, from 1230 onwards). But after being reconquered by King Dinis in 1296, they finally became part of Portuguese territory, with the signing of the Treaty of Alcañices the following year.
It was precisely this monarch who ordered the reinforcement of the old Leonese castle, adding an imposing Keep. During the reign of King Manuel I, the Sabugal Castle was reclassified. The works ended in 1515 when the town received a new Charter.
In the following centuries, the Sabugal Castle underwent new structural reforms and alterations to its original function. For example, during the War of Restoration (1640-1668), it functioned as a prison!
As I mentioned in the introduction, the Sabugal Castle was the base of Portuguese and English troops during the Third French Invasion (1810-1811). But after the conflicts ended, the military fortress was left abandoned.
How to Get to Sabugal Castle
I’ve already visited the Sabugal Castle twice and, on both occasions, I’ve included this monument in an itinerary known as the “Route of the Historical Villages of Portugal”. This is because the city of Sabugal is less than 15 km from Sortelha and about 30 km from Belmonte, two of the 12 Historical Villages in Portugal!
Another interesting tour you can take in this region is the “5 Medieval Villages” (also called the “5 Castles Route”). This project was created by the municipality of Sabugal and includes visits to Alfaiates, Sabugal, Sortelha, Vila do Touro, and Vilar Maior.
Opening Hours & Ticket Prices
The Sabugal Castle is open every day, from 10 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm to 6 pm, with the last entry taking place 15 minutes before closing time (ie, at 12:45 and at 5:45 pm).
The ticket to visit the Castle has a fixed price of €2 and also includes entry to the Sabugal Museum (a museum dedicated to the history, culture, and heritage of the municipality of Sabugal, with two exhibition rooms of an archaeological, ethnographic, and artistic nature).
What to See at Sabugal Castle
The Castle Square (or Square of Saint Mary of Fátima) is associated with a famous episode in the history of Portugal: the so-called “Miracle of Roses”, starring Queen Saint Elizabeth and King Dinis, her husband. Nobody knows if this story really happened, but its exact location is disputed by other cities, such as Leiria and Coimbra.
Legend has it that Queen Saint Elizabeth left Sabugal Castle on a “cold and frosty winter morning” to distribute bread to the poorest in town. This was not the first time that Elizabeth of Aragon performed charitable actions behind her husband’s back, as she was always considered a very kind queen and was nicknamed “Saint” by the Portuguese people.
But on that day, Queen Saint Elizabeth was intercepted by King Dinis, who asked her what she was carrying in her lap. Apparently, the monarch was already suspicious of his wife’s intentions, who often visited the sick and gave alms to the poor. But Queen Elizabeth: “They’re roses, sir!”
Suspicious that the queen was lying to him, King Dinis replied: “Roses, in winter?” (because it wasn’t their season). But Queen Saint Elizabeth opened her cloak and roses fell from it to everyone’s surprise!
The Keep is the structure that best distinguishes the Sabugal Castle from other medieval fortresses in Portugal.
The imposing pentagonal tower is inspired by the Templar towers and was inserted into one of the walls, to defend the main gate.
This structural option contrasts with the Romanesque castles, where it was common to build the keep isolated from the walls and inside the enclosure.
Its interior consists of several floors, crowned by a beautiful Gothic vault, which bears the national shield with five shields. If you go up the several flights of stairs, you’ll find a large terrace, with panoramic views over the historic area and the River Beach of Devesa, on the bank of the Côa River.
From its construction until the mid-16th century, the Place-of-Arms of the Sabugal Castle housed a series of residences, not to mention weapons deposits and other support structures.
But with the abandonment of the fortress at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the population began to collect stone blocks from the enclosure in order to build their own dwellings outside the walls.
Thus, this inner courtyard began to be used as the town cemetery around the 1840s and maintained these functions until the end of the 1930s.
Besides, it seems impossible to imagine, but this space was once home to the former Church of Saint Mary of the Castle! The small Gothic temple was almost as old as the Sabugal Castle and was eventually demolished in 1911, due to its advanced state of disrepair.
Recently, the Place-of-Arms was converted into a large open-air amphitheater, where countless concerts, shows, and presentations take place – especially in the hot summer months.
Chemin de Ronde (or Allure)
The Chemin de Ronde is an open passage that circles the top of the walls, giving way to the various towers and battlements. It’s also known as Allure.
The Chemin de Ronde of the Sabugal Castle is accessed by four internal stairs, located at different points in the Place-of-Arms. Be careful when climbing them, as the steps are quite narrow and slippery!
From here, you can walk around the entire perimeter of the Sabugal Castle and take the opportunity to visit the other turrets or photograph the different perspectives of the landscape.
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What Photography Gear Do I Use?
- Camera Body: Fujifilm X-T4 Mirrorless
- Camera Lens: Fujinon XF 18-55 mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS
- Tripod: Manfrotto Compact Action
- Small Tripod: Manfrotto PIXI Mini
- Smartphone Adaptor: Manfrotto PIXI Clamp
- Memory Card: SanDisk 128GB Extreme PRO SDXC