Bright and early today, I head out to Sintra on the Portuguese Riviera about half an hour west of Lisbon. Sintra is the epitome of Romanticist architecture and I think it really belongs in a fairy tale. I’m not surprised it was once the summer retreat for the Kings and Queens of Portugal. It is easy to get to with frequent trains from Lisbon (40 minute train ride) but I opted to go by car. The area is hilly and some of the sights are up steep hills and since I’m only going for the day, I prefer to save my time and energy for sightseeing and seeing as much as I can. Not only did the Kings and Queens come to Sintra, the wealthy of Portugal also followed suit and built grandiose mansions over the years. The UNESCO historic center, Vila de Sintra is a maze of cobblestone streets and dotted with pastel colored villas and gardens popping out among the verdant hills overlooking the Atlantic.
From the 1400s, the Portuguese Royals started using Sintra as their retreat to escape the summer heat of Lisbon and the most iconic building of that time is the National Palace of Sintra. The Palace of Sintra with its two enormous cone-shaped chimneys is the best preserved medieval royal palace in Portugal and was continuously inhabited from the late 14th to the late 19th centuries. The two large chimneys are not purely decorative. They actually sit above the large kitchen of the palace. The palace is not only known for its chimneys, it is also known for its tile decorations that are in the Mudéjar style with geometric and carpet-like patterns. The standout rooms are the Swan Room which has painted swans on the ceiling, the Magpie Room with the painted ceiling of magpies and the Sala dos Brasões with the coffered ceiling displaying 72 coats of arms of the Portuguese royalty.
The Swan Room with a ceiling decorated with swans is said to commemorate the royal marriage of the Infante D. Isabel de Portugal with the French Duque of Burgundy Philip the Good in 1430.
The Magpie Room is one of my favorites here at the National Palace of Sintra
The room takes its name from its magpies painted ceiling.
Each magpie holds a rose which was the symbol of Queen Philippa’s House of Lancaster and the words Por bem which means “without bad meaning”. Legend has it that King John I was caught kissing a lady which led the court women to chatter like magpies. The King claimed that the kiss was “Por bem” and painted the ceiling with 136 magpies, one for each woman of the court, so that they do not forget their duties as the King’s courtesans.
Another highlight is the Sala dos Brasoes or Coat of Arms Room with the coffered ceiling displaying 72 coats of arms of the Portuguese royalty and walls covered by 16th century azulejos (glazed tiles) depicting hunting scenes.
In the next post, I will talk about one of my favorite places in Sintra – the Initiation Well on the grounds of the Quinta de Regaleira. Stay tuned!
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