The Almourol Castle is situated in the small Almourol island, a rocky island, in the middle of the Tagus river (rio Tejo), in Praia do Ribatejo, a parish in Vila Nova de Barquinha, Central Portugal. The castle was a Knights Templar stronghold used during the Reconquista.
The conquest of the Castle
The site has been occupied since the antiquity. It is believed it was a primitive lusitanian redoubt and was populated from Roman times until the late Middle Ages. It is certain that in 1129, when Portuguese troops conquered the land, the castle already existed and was called Almorolan.
The Castle and the Knights Templar
The site was given to the Knights Templar, who built a settlement between the Mondego and the Tagus rivers. At the time, they were responsible for the defence of the capital, then Coimbra. The castle has been rebuilt, but it is assumed the architectural characteristics remain largely the same today.
Through an epigraph, placed on the main gate, we know that the reconstruction ended in 1171, two years after the building of the Castle of Tomar. The two castles have several characteristics in common, both built in the same style of military Templar architecture. Both opted for a quadrangular disposal of the spaces. The high walls are protected by nine circular towers, with a jail-tower at the center of the structure.
These last characteristics constitute two of the innovative elements which the Knights Templar brought to military architecture in Portugal. The jail, which appeared first in the 11th century in Tomar, the main Templar defensive redoubt in Portugal, is unusual in pre-Romanic castles. The jail tower of the castle of Almourol had three levels and was significantly modified over time, while it still retains important features. The design of walls with equally placed towers along the walls, was brought to the western Iberian peninsula by the knights.
The abandonment and the castle's renaissance
After the Order of the Knights Templar was eradicated in 1307, and the Portuguese reconquista ended, there was no longer any need for the stronghold, and the Almourol Castle was abandoned and forgotten. In the 19th century the castle was popularized as an example of chivalric and romantic ideals of the Middle Ages. Many of the original structures were destroyed in a failed attempt to recreate the grand medieval monument, without remaining true to its heritage.
The Castle in the 20th century
On the 16th of June 1910, by Royal Edit, the castle was classified as a national monument and, a few decades later it was adapted to be an Official Residence of the Portuguese Republic. Additional renovations took place during the 1940s and 1950s and some important events of the dictatorship period were held within its walls. It is important to note that most of these renovations which had started in the 19th century, were not respectful of the castle's original design, they were instead influenced by the 19th century romantic ideals and its conception of life in the Middle Ages, which lead to many of the castles primitive structures being sacrificed and several decorative elements added. Nowadays the castle is the property of the Portuguese Army and is currently located inside a designated military area.
Location of the castle
The castle is located in Central Portugal, in Medio Tejo subregion (ancient Ribatejo province) in the Santarém district, more specifically in the municipality of Vila Nova da Barquinha (in the parish Praia do Ribatejo). The castle (a national monument) and the tiny fluvial island may be visited without charge. Visitors only pay for an inexpensive boat trip across the river, which is the only way for visitors to reach the castle.
Towns nearby: Barquinha, Constança.
Closest Cities: Entroncamento, Abrantes, Tomar, Torres Novas, Fátima, Ourém, Ponte de Sor, Portalegre. The island and castle may be visible from the rail line between Entroncamento and Abrantes; there is a small train station (line of Beira Baixa and line of Leste, or by car. To visit the isle and castle take a boat from the Tagus bank. The castle is a National Monument.
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- Monuments of Portugal
- Castles in Portugal
- History of Portugal
- Order of Christ
- Médio Tejo
- Islands in Portugal
- Rivers in Portugal
- Information from IPPAR - Instituto Português do Património Arquitectónico (in Portuguese)