Here’s the third of a series of posts from my three week trip to Portugal that started on December 14th of 2022 and concluded on January 4, 2023. And yes, I know some of you may be wondering why I’m just starting to to post photographs (it’s May!) but going through a few thousand photographs while still running my video production business made things a bit complicated. These posts are, however, right on time for those of you who might be looking for an overseas location to getaway to this summer.
And sure, Portugal doesn’t get the notoriety of some of its sexier European counterparts (I’m looking at you Italy, Spain and France) but I think these posts will make it unreservedly clear that Portugal should be on anyone’s travel list; especially considering that Portugal is home to more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Switzerland, Romania, Israel and Egypt. So SUBSCRIBE HERE) to not miss a future post.
My first post focused on the Belém District in Lisbon (where our journey began) and included some of Portugal’s capital city’s most notable attractions (and UNESCO World Heritage Sites), the Torre de Belém and the Jerónimos Monastery. We also stopped by the towering Monument to the Discoveries. My next post featured a visit to the museum formerly known as Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon’s remarkable modern and contemporary art museum (it was renamed the Contemporary Art Museum – Centro Cultural de Belém on January 1, 2023). after a few days in Lisbon we drove about 30 minutes NW to the town of Sintra, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We checked into the Sintra Boutique Hotel right in the heart of Sintra’s historic district. Then it was off to our first stop, one of Portugal’s most visited sites, the Palácio da Pena (National Palace of Pena). Millions of tourists flock to Sintra each year to view this magnificent palace and we were told that during prime tourist season, the traffic leading up the hill to the Palace can be backed up for hours. But in December? No problemo. A 20 minute Uber ride from our hotel to the entrance to the Palace (with tickets already purchased online).
TRAVEL TIP: Tickets are sold with a set 30-minute entry time (there are no time restrictions once in the park) and during peak season, the best time slots do sell out. If you miss your time slot, you will be refused entry to the palace so plan accordingly.
The history of the National Palace of Pena reaches back to the 12th century, a point in time when there was a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena here. On this same location, King Manuel I ordered the construction of a monastery on this site which was donated to the Order of Saint Jerome.
The earthquake which struck Lisbon in 1755 left the monastery practically entirely in ruins. However, the Monastery remained active but almost a century later, in 1834, following the abolition of religious orders in Portugal, it was abandoned.
Two years later, in 1836, Queen Maria II married Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, a German prince of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and a general of cavalry in the Austrian Imperial and Royal Army during the Napoleonic Wars.
Ferdinand II was one of the most cultured men of 19th century and shortly after his arrival in Portugal, he fell hard for Sintra. In 1838, as King consort Ferdinand II, he acquired, from his own personal fortune, the Monastery of Saint Jerome, then in ruins, as well as all the lands surrounding the property.
The original project was simply to restore the building as the summer residence for the royal family but his enthusiasm led him to opt for the construction of a palace and extending the pre-existing construction under the supervision of Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, a mineralogist and mine engineer who was then residing in Portugal.
The construction took place between 1842 and 1854, although it was almost completed in 1847: King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II intervened decisively on matters of decoration and symbolism. Following the death of Queen Maria II in 1853, Ferdinand would marry Elise Hensler, an opera singer and the Countess of Edla who inherited the palace after Ferdinand’s death in 1885.
Hensler then sold the palace to King Luís, who wanted to retrieve it for the royal family, and thereafter the palace was frequently used by the family. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.
Over time the colors of the red and yellow façades faded, and for many years the palace was visually identified as being entirely gray but by the end of the 20th century the palace was repainted and the original colors restored. In 1995, the palace and the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
We arrived with the threat of rain lurking (a recurring theme of our trip) and we even had to find cover outside a restroom to wait out a passing thunderstorm but the cloud cover proved to be a blessing (another recurring theme of our trip) as the harsh sun (when it actually did come out) created sharp contrasts with light and shadow that made taking photographs considerably more complicated. Ultimately, our visit to the National Palace of Pena was a success. Enjoy the photographs…
The Arch of the Triton is decorated with carvings of seashells and is flanked by two towers. Above the arch is the carving of Triton, a mythological half-man, half-fish, who guards the entrance. The archway is intended to show a divide between the aquatic world, shown beneath Triton, and earth, shown above Triton.
Through the archway, the Arches Yard with its wall of Moorish arches looking out over the Sintra Hills. The colorful clock tower was completed in 1843. And yes, every now and then we found someone to snap a photograph of us…
Heading back through Triton’s Tunnel from the Arches Yard is a simplified version of the famous Manueline window in the Convent of Christ in Tomar (more on that in a future post).
The interiors of the Pena Palace were adapted to serve as the Summer residence of the royal family and feature the Royal Dining Room, Noble Room and spacious kitchen.
Back outside on the terrace, the harsh sun reared its shiny head for a minute. There’s a small cafeteria right on the terrace so we grabbed a table, a coffee and a few pastries, took a selfie…and then the rains came.
Once the rain stopped, I took advantage of the cloud cover for a few more photographs. Then we were on our way to the ruins of the Castelo dos Mouros (Castle of the Moors) which was built by the Moors in the 8th and 9th centuries(!). It is classified as a National Monument and part of the Sintra Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Those photographs will make up our next post so SUBSCRIBE HERE so that you won’t have to learn to live with regret.