The Enchanted Moorish Maiden: A photographic journey of Islam in Portugal

There is a Portuguese legend that says on bright moonlit nights, if you wander through the Serra di Sintra or the dark woods of Bucaco, you will come across an enchantingly beautiful Moorish maiden, dressed all in white.

The maiden emerges from an opening by a rock carrying an empty water pot on her way to a nearby spring. As she passes with the vessel on her head, the legend says whispers can be heard in the wind as well as the low restrained mourning for a time that is now gone and will never again return.

This is a photographic journey through the region where this romantic legend has been retold for nearly 800 years. A place the Muslims called Gharb al Andalus for five centuries after their arrival in 714 AD.

The journey takes the reader through the lush Parques de Sintra near the picturesque town of Sintra as well as the country’s capital Lisbon. Through the capturing of three monuments, the journey aims to represent the Portuguese Muslim past, the pining and romanticising of that past (as alluded to by the legend) and finally the Portuguese Muslim present.

THE MOORISH CASTLE, SINTRA (10th Century) 

The slopes of the hill this fort is built on were occupied as far back as 5000 BC by Neolithic man. The castle was built in the 10th century following the Muslim arrival in the early part of the 8th century. It is strategically placed to offer great vistas across the peninsula surrounding the important regional city of Lisbon as well as out to the Atlantic Sea. Thus prospective invaders and visitors could be seen before their arrival. These views can still be appreciated today atop the many towers.  

THE PALACE OF PENA, SINTRA (1838-1854)

This is an eccentric and unplanned expression of one man’s desire to build pretty much whatever he wanted – or at least that is the impression you are left with as you walk around this wildly flamboyant monument. The Pena Palace’s romanticising of the Moorish past and east in general speaks volumes about the monarch who built it, whilst the coming together of such different architectural styles as Manueline, Moorish and Gothic can at times feel so surreal that it could easily be mistaken for being a ‘zone’ at a modern ‘theme park’ – though whether the theme for the zone is Oriental, Islamic or European is never really clear. Originally a 12th century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena and later a monastery, King Don (Dom) Fernando II bought the site in 1838 before going to ‘town’ on it in what is seen as the finest expression of Portuguese Romanticism.

THE CENTRAL MOSQUE OF LISBON, LISBON (1985)

The organisation behind Lisbon’s première mosque was founded by the local Mozambique community of Muslims in 1910. The current building was constructed in 1985 and its design aimed to integrate North and Central African styles with local Andalusian Moorish elements. Yet the most striking feature is the minaret which appears to have been influenced by the unique Malwiya minaret of Samarra in Iraq, built by the Abbasids in the 9th Century. Although the Malwiya is round, it also has an ascending spiralling, cone-like shape, only the spirals of the Manwiya contained stairs for the Muezzin to reach the top. The design of the Lisbon mosque was meant to represent the migrant users of the mosque as well as the region’s Moorish history.

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7 Replies to “The Enchanted Moorish Maiden: A photographic journey of Islam in Portugal”

  1. A very interesting and enjoyable read,
    Keep up the good work.
    Looking forward to future exploration, a very thought provoking tome, raising more question than providing answers.
    Congratulations

  2. Very well written and some breathtaking pictures. I feel like I wana grab tickets to Portugal and head there right now.

    1. Hey Amr, great to here you’re feeling inspired to come to Europe, there is lots of similar history out here to explore, and it’s not that far away!

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