|My daughter and I at Castle of St. George|
The castle dates back to the 6th century. It first served as the Moorish royal residence until Portugal's first King, Alfonso Henriques captured it in 1147 with the help of northern crusaders on the way to the holy land. Dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of England, it remained the royal residence until it was replaced by another castle.
Not much remains of the castle except its labyrinth of walls. A statue of King Alfonso Henriques greets you when you enter through the main gate. Single file, you can climb the steep steps to traverse the castle walls and get incredible panoramic views of the city and the River Tajus. I dragged my sister up to the steps and back in time. She surveyed the ruined remains and wondered what so fascinated me. And she made me wonder, too.
Just what is so fascinating about castles?
I think the stark reminder that home, sweet home in a castle conjures very different meanings than when we think of our own welcoming hearth. Castles are more than a place of refuge or luxury comfort, but a defensive arsenal. They were fortified buildings built on hills, not for the scenic view but because it is a strategic position of defense. Their ramparts were thick, solid stone so they could not be stormed by battering rams. Parapets, the defensive walls lining the roof have cutouts known as crenels, which provide openings for the archers to fire down upon the enemy and enable projectile missiles to be launched. Stones and burning oil were dropped on unwelcome intruders. How cool is that? Definitely not in Kansas anymore....
Archaic words like turrets, keeps, porticullis, moats and baileys tumble off our tongue and come alive. We step into a long lost past and picture the world of kings, queens, and sword wielding armored knights. We remember Camelot, Robinhood and Ivanhoe. Or better yet, we recall our childhood dreams of being a princess locked in the tower awaiting her prince.
Okay, so you see why I love writing historical romance. All roads lead to romance. Or so they do, in my castles.
If you're not into castles, there is the fairytale palace in Sintra, or the Monument of Discoveries that is a tribute to Vasco de Gama and Magellan. There is also the 16th century Belem Tower on the Tagus River that provides the first gateway of defense for Lisbon. Okay, I'm back to defensive fortifications....
Well, there is always gelato -- rich, creamy and delicious! I guess I should thank Irene for my extended stay in Portugal. Being stuck in Europe is a problem I can handle :)