It’s the end of my first day in Portugal and after a very busy day travelling yesterday, today was pretty chilled. After a nice lunch in Constancia, we headed for the castle at Almourol.
The castle is set on a little island in the middle of the Tagus river and really is an imposing sight as you approach. It is believed that the site was originally a Roman site but it’s not hugely clear when the castle itself was established – what is clear, however, is that there are various occupation layers within the archaeological stratigraphy including Roman and medieval.
What the castle is best known for, however, is its links to the Knights Templar. The castle was placed into the care of Gualdin Pais, the Master of the Knights Templar in Portugal, who oversaw a restructuring of the building. Above one of the gates is an inscribed stone slab telling those who walk in that the restoration began in the year 1171.
The architecture of the building is, of course, linked to the need for defence. And indeed as you walk around the ruins today you really do get the sense that this was a place built for war. You really can imagine the place being full of knights running about in their chain mail. The architecture of the castle is full of innovations brought in by the Templars including the keep as well as the watchtowers.
Almourol castle forms part of the defensive line of fortifications along the Tagus river and worked closely alongside the castles of Tomar, Zezere and Cardiga. Unfortunately after the Templars were disbanded in 1312, with the arrest of their Grand Master and his eventual execution in 1314, the castle at Almourol was abandoned and fell into ruin. What we see today is thanks to the restoration efforts – in the nineteenth century it was reinvented by romantic idealists which led to the need for intervention by the DGMEN (Direcção-Geral dos Edifícios e Monumentos Nacionais) in 1939 (who became IGESPAR) and it was thanks to them that the fortification was repaired and reconstructed.
Today you can access the castle by a short boat ride. The building itself is not large so it doesn’t take very long to walk around, however it is certainly worth doing so if you have any sort of interest in the history of the Knights Templar and find yourself in Portugal, I would definitely recommend visiting this quaint little castle.