Sintra in Portugal became one of the first places to exemplify a new architectural style during the period of Romanticism in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sintra became a canvas where the wealthy and artistically-minded built whimsical buildings in bright colors and embellishments that previously only existed in fairy tales. This mix of decorative art, flamboyant colors, and the melding of different cultures was best shown in the Palácio da Pena perched on the top of the hill. Pena Palace was commissioned in 1838 by the artistic King Ferdinand II, the husband of Queen D. Maria II. Not only is it a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is a bit of a hodge podge of Moorish and Renaissance and Disney-esque styles. It reminds me a bit of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany though it is much less subdued with yellow and red towers and turrets and onion domes. Pena Palace was built over the ruins of an old monastery from the 1500s (the red buildings) and you can still see it in one wing of the palace. The yellow buildings are the expansion by King Ferdinand II also known as the “New Palace”. I love the Manueline cloister of the old monastery, the twisted columns outside the Auditorium, and the Triton arch symbolising the Creation. The interior of the palace is just as extravagant and whimsical as its exterior but unfortunately photographs are not allowed inside. The rooms of the palace are filled with beautiful Portuguese furniture, exquisite and rare Meissen porcelain, and realistic trompe l’oeil murals especially those of the Arab Room. If you have the time, do check out the large park surrounding the palace and do hike up to the High Cross for views of the entire palace.
Hiked up to the High Cross to get this view of the entire palace.
The stone High Cross sits on the highest place of the Sintra Hills since the 16th century.
Pena Palace was built over the ruins of an old monastery from the 1500s (the red buildings) and you can still see it in one wing of the palace. The yellow buildings are the expansion by King Ferdinand II also known as the “New Palace”.
There is a bus you can take to save you the hike up to the palace but most people just slowly walk up instead of waiting in line.
The Moorish entrance to Pena Palace
The coat of arms of King Ferdinand II of Portugal and of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.
A clear view of the defensive walls of the medieval Castle of the Moors from Pena Palace.
The Castle of the Moors was built by the North African Moors and bears witness to the Islamic past of the region. After the Reconquista and the driving out of the Moors by the Christian Crusaders in the 12th century, the castle was further enlarged. However, it no longer had strategic importance and was eventually left to ruin.
Strange human gargoyles decorate the palace
The Arch of the Triton symbolizes the “Allegoric Gate to the creation of the World” and is one of my favorites.
The Triton is a mythological monster, half-man and half-fish and the arch divides the world into the aquatic world below and the terrestrial world above as depicted by the leaves and branches above and the shells and coral below the Triton.
Beautiful twisted columns outside the Auditorium
View from the Queen’s Terrace of the Palace
Managed to sneak in a photo of the Manueline cloisters covered in Hispano-Arabic tiles which was the original part of the 16th century Monastery.
I couldn’t resist sneaking in a photo of the exceptionally realistic trompe l’oeil murals of the Arab Room. It’s amazing how it looks like carvings on stone or alabaster and not paintings on panels!
Pena Palace is a whimsical place that doesn’t feel real, in that real kings and queens actually lived here until 1910. The place is overrun with tourists, many more people than at the National Palace of Sintra, making it not so pleasant of a place to visit. But having said that, it is still worth coming to check it out. Perhaps it would be a good idea to come here when it opens or right before it closes. Most tour groups come here in the morning and then visit the National Palace and the Sintra Village in the afternoon.
The next post will be on a less visited but still beautiful palace in Sintra called the Monserrate Palace. Stay tuned!
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