Category Archives: PORTUGAL

A castle built by the Moors, taken by the Vikings, and conquered by the King of Portugal

A castle built by the Moors, taken by the Vikings, and conquered by the King of Portugal

Sintra’s charming Portuguese town is known for its Fairytale palaces and enchanting gardens. Although Pena Palace and Quinta da Regaleira are the highlights of the hilly region, the Moorish Castle has recently gained the attention it deserves.

The castle lacks the extravagance of the other 2 palaces, but that doesn’t make it unworthy of a visit. On the contrary, the unique structure is a perfect spot for every history lover.

The Castle of the Moors, or Castelo dos Mouros, was built in the 8th and 9th century by the North African Moors during their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, hence its name.

The Moors chose a strategic military location high in the mountains over the River Tagus. Once it was completed, the castle was of great significance for the Moors and remained so until the end of their rule.

The Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal
The Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal

The Norwegian Viking Sigurd I Magnusson, a king better known as Sigurd the Crusader, took over the castle in 1108. The Vikings were headed to Jerusalem and as soon as they left the castle, it was once again in the hands of the Moors.

Finally, after a couple of attempts to expel the Moors from the castle and the country itself, it was conquered by the King of Portugal, Afonso I “the Conqueror” Henriques, in 1147.

Archeological excavations at the site have discovered remains of a mosque and a few houses that used to be inhabited by the North African Muslims. On the location where once the mosque stood,  Afonso I “the Conqueror” Henriques built a small chapel.

Although it remains undiscovered until today, one legend has it that under the cistern is the burial site of one of the powerful North African Kings.

Moorish Castle and Pena Palace in Sintra, Portugal

The monarchs of Portugal continuously used the castle; however, it wasn’t as important as it had been during the Moorish rule. The last king of Portugal believed to have used the castle was Fernando I. The monarchs kept the original Moorish architecture of the castle but made small alterations.

After the 14th century, it was neglected. For a short period, Jewish families lived in the castle. However, it was once again abandoned after they were banished from the country. The Moorish Castle didn’t see any improvements in the following centuries. In fact, its condition has only gotten worse.

Vegetation took over the castle and a big fire damaged most of the towers and rooms. Also, the tremendous earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 affected the architecture of the castle. But no one was willing to repair it and everything was indicating that nature would eventually destroy the castle. And so it would have probably ended up if it weren’t for King Ferdinand II.

In 1842, he built the Pena Palace and enjoyed looking at the Moorish Castle from his residence. However, the condition of the medieval fortress troubled the King, so he started to make plans to restore it. Ferdinand II was a great admirer of the arts, and the castle was his favorite spot for painting. Everyone who has visited the castle would be unsurprised by this fact.

The Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal

It has breathtaking views: from one side is the magnificent Pena Palace, and on the other is the oldest palace in Portugal, the National Palace of Sintra. Beautiful landscapes and the fairytale town of Sintra beneath the fortress are also part of the unforgettable panoramic views. And when the weather permits, it is possible to see the Atlantic Ocean from the highest spot of the castle, known as the King’s Tower.

Ferdinand II liked the Moorish Castle very much and did everything he could to maintain it. In the 20th century, it was once more restored as part of the commemoration of the foundation of Portugal.

Archeological excavations continue to this day, and so far the archeologists have also discovered a Christian graveyard and many artifacts on the site that are now on display in the castle. Today, the remarkable Morish Castle is a National Monument, open to visitors and since 1995 has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Burials of Africans slaves found at the old rubbish dump in Portugal

Burials of Africans slaves found at the old rubbish dump in Portugal

Adult female skeleton found at Valle da Gafaria, Portugal, suggests a careless burial.
Adult female skeleton found at Valle da Gafaria, Portugal, suggests a careless burial.

Portuguese explorers such as Henry the Navigator started sailing to Africa in the early 15th century, bringing both goods and enslaved people back.

A new archeological study of more than 150 skeletons dumped in Lagos, Portugal, reveals that there were no proper burials given to many of the enslaved Africans and that several of them may even have been tied to death.

The skeletons come from the site of Valle da Gafaria, which was located outside the Medieval walls of the port city of Lagos along the southwest coast of Portugal. Used between the Fifteenth and Seventeenth centuries as a dumping ground, the site also offered up remains of imported ceramics, butchered animal bones, and a few African style ornaments.

When the human skeletons were first analyzed, their shape and unique dental style suggested that they might have been of African origin, and subsequently, genetic analysis confirmed ancestry with Bantu – speaking populations of South Africa. Due to the archaeological and historical information, it is likely that all of these people were enslaved.

In a new research article published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, Maria Teresa Ferreira, Catarina Coelho, and Sofia Wasterlain of the University of Coimbra dug further into the bone data in order to understand how the 158 enslaved Africans came to be buried in a trash pit in Lagos.

Specifically, they investigated the position of each burial, whether or not the burial was made with care, and whether they could identify any evidence that the person’s body had been bound.

Adult female from Valle da Gafaria whose positioning suggests she may have been tied up for burial.
Adult female from Valle da Gafaria whose positioning suggests she may have been tied up for burial.

The Medieval Catholic concern with burial meant that the church was important in handling deaths in Portugal. A body would be ferried to the church in a funeral procession, and a grave would be chosen as close to a religious building as possible.

Elites and nobles were usually buried in an area protected by walls, while more marginal people were located outside. Those people who were further stigmatized by disease, condemned, or otherwise considered not to be deserving of care would be placed far outside sacred spaces.

Enslaved occupants of Medieval Portugal would not necessarily have been prevented from a proper burial. Many were baptized on arrival to Portugal and therefore had a right to a Christian funeral if the slave owner decided to do so.

However, due to the poor conditions aboard the ships, many people arrived so weakened that they died without being baptized. “In such cases,” Ferreira and colleagues explain, “as their humanity was not recognized, the corpses were treated as animal remains: summarily buried in any free field or dumped in the garbage.”

More than half of the people “seemed to have been buried without care,” Ferreira and colleagues note. “Moreover, six individuals showed evidence of having been tied when inhumed.” This suggests that several people had been tied up has intrigued other scholars, although it is unclear from the published research whether the bound limbs were related to the people’s enslaved status or to a more functional method of disposing of bodies.

Biological anthropologist Tim Thompson at Teesside University praised the “sound research” but also told me that “it is difficult to truly assess the examples of tied individuals because there are so few, and no figures are presented.” He suggests that comparing “the anatomical positioning with examples from modern mass graves would allow for deeper analysis. There are many examples of binding and blindfolding in these modern mass violence settings, along with disrespectful deposition of bodies.”

Ellen Chapman, a bioarchaeologist and cultural resources specialist at Cultural Heritage Partners, also told me that she looks forward to further work on this site and this collection of skeletons because “this site is an incredibly disturbing one, and one that clearly illustrates the pervasive mistreatment of enslaved people by the architects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

In particular, Chapman notes that “this skeletal collection is indicative of the high mortality associated with slave ships and the Middle Passage.” Thompson adds that “this work has the potential to contribute to our understanding of both ancient and modern forced slavery contexts.”

In the end, Ferreira and colleagues conclude that “Valle da Gafaria’s osteological collection is extremely important for slavery studies. Not only are there few cemeteries of enslaved people in the world, but also, Lagos is the oldest sample to be discovered and studied in the world.”

Source: archaeologynewsnetwork