The oldest remains found on the grounds of Castelo de São Jorge date back to the days when the Phoenicians sailed around the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts to trade goods with the local communities that lived there.
The objects identified here by archaeologists date back to the 7th century BC, a time commonly known as the Iron Age. And why is it called the Iron Age? Because it was at that time that communities developed a new technology, iron metallurgy. Producing objects in iron was complex as it required high-temperature furnaces. The mastery of this technology allowed objects like weapons, tools and other utensils to be manufactured. Other innovations were introduced during this period, such as the potter’s wheel, which made it possible to produce ceramic pieces with more varied shapes which were more resistant and also more beautiful.
The hill offered natural protection to the populations that lived there. Strategically positioned and overlooking the great artery that was the Tagus River, it had escarpments and steep slopes that afforded an added degree of protection and was abundant in water.
It’s no surprise, then, that archaeologists have found remains of old houses which belonged to a village that stretched from the top of the hill to the river. This village, one of the largest urban centres in Portugal, seems to have been inhabited for four hundred years, from the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC (in other words, throughout much of the Iron Age). It is estimated that between 2500 and 5000 people lived in the village.
Over these centuries, the people who lived here left objects (amphorae, pots, pans, plates or cups) mostly broken into pieces, but which archaeologists managed to recover and identify. They soon recognised that many of these objects came from very far away, from Phoenicia, Greece or North Africa. One of these imported objects, the typical “fish dish” of Phoenicia, was copied by potters who lived nearby and began to be manufactured locally. Both are exhibited in the Museum Centre, as well as all the other objects that came from such distant lands.
The Islamic neighbourhood at the castle, discovered by archaeologists at the end of the 20th century, was built in the second half of the 11th century, at the time of the Taifa kingdoms. At this time, the northern part of the fortress was reorganized and the walls of the city of Al-Ushbuna, as the city of Lisbon was formerly known, were rebuilt.
At the top of the hill, surrounded by walls, stood the casbah, the area where the influential people of the city’s government lived. In this area there were residential neighbourhoods, like the one discovered next to the castle. It consisted of both large and small houses, as well as streets, and was located right next to the mosque gardens, which tradition says stood where the church of Santa Cruz is today.
The large houses, belonging to the most important people, were more than 150m²2 and had an interior patio and a small garden, around which the different rooms were situated: the living-room (where they ate their meals and hosted friends) and chambers (bedrooms); the kitchen and pantry; the latrine (toilet) and other rooms. They had plastered walls, that is, coated with a mortar to have a smoother and more uniform texture. This plaster was painted: decorated with geometric motifs, as was typical of Islamic culture. In the living-rooms, it is still possible to see the red mortar floors. The walls of the patios, which had stone slab floors, were also plastered and painted.
The main access road to the houses was paved with slabs, meaning it was not made of dirt, which was important on rainy days when the streets would otherwise be very muddy. There was also a rudimentary sewage system: a pipe made of clay or stone, covered by a stone slab, directed the water from the house to the street and from there to a cesspit.
Various objects were found in these houses that the inhabitants left when they had to abandon their homes following the conquest of the city by Afonso Henriques in 1147. These objects mostly consist of everyday crockery, but there were also candis for lighting (the lamps of the time) and game pieces, which can be seen at the Museum Centre.
When Afonso Henriques conquered the city from the Moors in 1147, one of the first measures he took was to donate the land to the east of the castle (the area of the citadel where the Islamic quarter was located), to Dom Gilberto, Bishop of Lisbon, so they could build their episcopal palaces.
Little is known about these palaces. Archaeologists were able to identify some walls from renovations carried out during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, but they did not actually manage to identify the building’s floor plan.
Through ancient written documents we know that the bishops had one of their palaces (yes, they had other residences in the city!) in this area of the citadel, next to the current church of Santa Cruz and close to the king’s palace. Through these documents, we can see that the palace was more like a series of houses that were built according to needs and fashions, rather than a single building.
Although we don’t know what the Bishops’ palaces in the citadel looked like, written sources tell us that various bishops and archbishops expanded and improved the buildings over the centuries and the structures found by archaeologists confirm this. This continued until at least the mid-15th century, when the palaces of the bishops of the fortress were leased, and later sold, to other people.
The Palace of the Counts of Santiago was one of the last noble residences built in the citadel.
It was the residence of the aposentador-mor of the Royal Household from the 16th to the 18th century, more precisely until 1755, when the palace was completely destroyed by the fire that followed the earthquake.
The king’s aposentador-mor was an official of the Royal Household who was responsible for making all accommodation arrangements for the king when he was travelling. Like other important roles in the Royal Household, it was a position assigned to a nobleman. It was usually hereditary, that is, it passed from father to son, except when it became vacant because there was no offspring.
The Palace of the Counts of Santiago de Beduído, aposentadores-mores of the Royal Household, consisted of the old houses of the bishops’ palaces. Naturally, these old buildings were renovated and expanded over the 250 years they were occupied.
Although the palace was completely destroyed by the fire that followed the 1755 earthquake, some structures that archaeologists identified as ground floor rooms were preserved under the rubble.
These include access areas, stables, a kitchen, pantries and storerooms. It is also possible to see part of the stone floor of the access area. Well as a room where part of a door and a window have survived, with three different floors, corresponding to work carried out in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. There are also the remains of a stone staircase that led to the upper floor and the underground pantry, accessed by stairs and with a domed roof, which was used to store food in a cool place as, at that time, there were no refrigerators.
Archaeologists have found several objects lost amongst the rubble, such as porcelain imported from China and faience and glass deformed by the heat of the fire, which can be seen in the Museum Centre. . In addition, there are the fragments of the tile panel (featuring angels intertwined with plant motifs) that covered the wall of one of the rooms, dating from the 17th century.