In my continuing series of photographs from my three week trip to Portugal back in December 2022 – January 2023 (and yes, I know we’re in May), we leave Sintra and all its wonderful attractions behind and drive north to the city of Mafra to behold the majestic Palácio de Mafra.
The Palácio de Mafra (Palace of Mafra) is a monumental Baroque and Neoclassical palace-monastery located about 17 miles from Lisbon and about a 30 minute drive north from our hotel in Sintra. This imposing quadrangular building houses the king’s and queen’s palaces, the royal chapel, shaped like a Roman baroque basilica, a Franciscan monastery and a library containing 36,000 volumes.
The palace represents one of the most magnificent works undertaken by King João V, who was King of Portugal from December 1706 until his death in 1750. João V had exceptional cultural and economic conditions that allowed him to stand out among other European monarchies as a powerful sovereign of a vast multicontinental empire. Beginning with the choice of the German architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig, this project symbolized an international affirmation of the Portuguese ruling dynasty.
The imposing façade, built of local limestone, is 220 meters long and faces the town of Mafra. The north turret was occupied by the king and the south turret by the queen, and both turrets are linked by a 232-meter gallery – making it Europe’s largest palatial corridor. In fact, when the king left his apartment towards the apartment of the queen, this was announced to the queen by the sound of a trumpet(!)
Construction began in 1717 and lasted 13 years, utilizing a vast army of workers from the entire country (a daily average of 15,000 but at the end climbing to 30,000 and a maximum of 45,000), under the command of António Ludovice, the son of the architect. In addition 7,000 soldiers were assigned to preserve order at the construction site.
Inside, there are over 1200 rooms connected by over 150 flights of stairs and more than 4,700 doors and windows but only a small portion of the rooms are open to the public. This “small portion” will still have you walking almost a mile within the staterooms(!)
The National Palace of Mafra was classified as a National Monument in 1910 and proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2019. Entry fee is 6€ for adults and children are free up to 12 years of age. We drove up to Mafra from Sintra and there is ample parking outside the Palace. Enjoy the photographs…
The vestibule (Galilee porch) contains a group of large sculptures in Carrara marble, representing the patron saints of several monastic orders. These statues are works of the Mafra School of Sculpture, which was founded during the reign of King Joseph I of Portugal, successor of King João V. Among the teachers were several important sculptors, namely Alessandro Giusti, José de Almeida, Claude de Laprade and Giovanni Antonio da Padova. As a result, these works are the most important collection of Baroque sculpture existing outside Italy.
The Basilica of Our Lady and Saint Anthony of Mafra and the convent were inaugurated on the day of the King’s 41st birthday on October 22, 1730. The festivities lasted for 8 days and were of a scale never seen before in Portugal. The royal basilica was built in Italian Baroque style and is also particularly remarkable for the quality of its pink and gray marbles. It also features one of the world’s largest domes. The side aisles display 58 marble statues commissioned from the aforementioned Mafra School of Sculpture.
One of the palace’s many cloisters…
Walking down corridors where kings and queens once walked…
Having visited the palace, it was time to head to our next stop, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Mosteiro de Alcobaça (and its tragic love story). You’re not gonna want to miss this one so SUBSCRIBE HERE. You won’t be sorry. Promise.