Leira And The Great Castle Above It – Portugal Travel

We drove for two hours more, and, just as the black shadows began to lengthen, we drove into the town of Leiria, the Calippo of the Romans, and for long the stronghold whence the Moors harried the advancing Christians to the north. It is a lovely place on the banks of the Liz, set in the midst of pine-clad hills, and the center of a great agricultural district. Here, again, the two abrupt eminences that loom over the town are crowned respectively by the enormous medieval stronghold and the religious house that forever seems to keep it company. I started soon after my arrival at the inn, where there was no particular temptation to remain, to scale the hill from which the castle frowned down, upon the town.

A rocky path aslant the hill amid the under-growth seemed to offer no great difficulty at first, and I began the climb. The path, if it can so be called, was continued by other slanting ascents more difficult than the first, but still intent only upon each next step, I scrambled on by the aid of tufts of esparto grass, until I be-came aware that the track had ended altogether, and that the farther ascent was apparently impossible. Not until then had I looked down, but when I did so I understood in a moment the peril in which I was. I stood at a height of some five hundred feet above the level, and descent by the way I had come was absolutely impossible. For the last hundred feet I had only scrambled up by the aid of occasional stones that afforded a momentary lodgment for the toe and by clutching tufts of grass, but these would not help me to descend. The pine-needles that lay thick underfoot made the slope as slippery as ice, and I knew that if I attempted to retrace my steps I should certainly be dashed to pieces.

The great castle around me, built by King Diniz the Farmer, in the thirteenth century, upon the site of the Moorish stronghold, was of immense extent, and included ruins of residential edifices of later medieval times. As I saw it now it was a dream of beauty. The setting sun falling athwart its lichen-covered stones dyed them as red as blood. Within the vast crenellated walls two distinct castles stood, one the cyclopean early structure, and the other a lovely Gothic palace, whose ogival windows, pointed arches, and slender pillars were still graceful in decay. The dismantled chapel is exquisite, and if light had served, or any intelligent guidance had been obtainable, the inscriptions in it would have been interesting. But the twilight was falling, and the magnificent view from the battlements over the town, the plain, and the mountains called to me.

It was a feast of loveliness to the eye. The golden light of the setting sun glorified the vast plain below me, with its silver river fringed by poplars winding through it for many a mile, and the hills in the distance clothed to the crests with lofty pines, black and solemn now in the fading light. On a hill adjoining that upon which I stood the great white Convent and Sanctuary of the Incarnation looks across at the crumbling castle that it has outlived; and, just below me, between the inner and outer defenses of the stronghold, on a green grassy slope, some children are playing joyously. As I wander down the way, safe and easy on this side, through mighty donjons, and thick, tunnelled walls which have seen so many bloody sights and echoed so many dismal sounds, the very spirit of peace seems to pervade the place. Past a quaint old desecrated church and the enormous monastery of St, Peter, now, like most of such places, a barrack, I tread the picturesque praca of the town again, and stroll along the fine avenue of planes and eucalyptus by the side of the river as the afterglow lights up the cliff and the castle with a pearly reflected glamor. The hill from below is like that of Edinburgh, but apparently double as high, and the vast extent of the battlements is more evident than when seen on the summit. Huge buttresses of rock seem to sustain the curtain that connects the keep of the fortress with the Gothic palace, and everywhere the gray of the granite is covered with a patina of yellow lichen, and the crevices filled with yew, aloes, and olives.