For at least 2000 years this great hill known as Monte Maior has been fortified. The Romans had called it Montis Maioris, and Roman stonework may be found in the base of the keep, while many walls are built on Moorish foundations. In 848 King Ramiro of Leon took the castle from the Moors, and entrusted it to a monk, Brother João. A violent Moorish counter attack was repelled with great valor, but by 990, the Christian knights were forced back. Only in 1095 did they take it back, and in 1111 Portuguese knights defended Montemor as the border of a soon to be born nation. The castle grew with Portugal, and housed a garrison of some 5,000 men. In the 13th century, it became known as “O Velho,” for the town’s valor had spawned a new town in the Alentejo, Montemor-o-Novo. It last saw battle in 1808, as a band of students from the University of Coimbra turned back a French army. Today the castle persists, restored and immense. Boasting one of the largest barbicans in Portugal, and lines of walls after walls, Montemor appears mostly as it did after renovations in the 14th century, with a small keep, ruined palace, parade grounds and three churches. The great castle still reigns over the rice fields and green field of the Mondego River valley from its high hill.