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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Romance of Sintra

Panorama of a street entering Sintra

Sintra is a fairy-tale romantic castle on the cover of nearly every travel book about Portugal. It was the first place we visited after arriving at Lisbon airport. Rather than having to take a shuttle bus up the mountain we managed to find our way by car right to the top of the road leading directly to the palace after extensive navigation through the maze of streets surrounding the mountain on which the Palace de Pena and the Moorish Castle were built and doing one complete circumnavigation of the mountain to find the hidden one-way route in. I then made quick foray up to photograph the palace with the help of a tram ride up the last stage after buying an entry ticket.

This is a largely wordless photo-blog to enjoy the nature of the Palace and its surrounds, but I have included a snippet of its history from Wikipedia below.

The Pena National Palace (Portuguese: Palácio Nacional da Pena) is the oldest palace inspired by European Romanticism. The palace's history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, the construction occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary. In 1493, King John II, accompanied by his wife Queen Leonor, made a pilgrimage to the site to fulfill a vow. His successor, King Manuel I, was also very fond of this sanctuary, and ordered the construction there of a monastery which was donated to the Order of Saint Jerome. For centuries Pena was a small, quiet place for meditation, housing a maximum of eighteen monks.

In the 18th century the monastery was severely damaged by lightning. However, it was the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, occurring shortly afterwards, that took the heaviest toll on the monastery, reducing it to ruins. Nonetheless, the chapel (and its magnificent works of marble and alabaster attributed to Nicolau Chanterene) escaped without significant damage.

For many decades the ruins remained untouched, but they still astonished young prince Ferdinand. In 1838, as King consort Ferdinand II, he decided to acquire the old monastery, all of the surrounding lands, the nearby Castle of the Moors and a few other estates in the area. King Ferdinand then set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The commission for the Romantic style rebuilding was given to Lieutenant-General and mining engineer Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. Eschwege, a German amateur architect, was much traveled and likely had knowledge of several castles along the Rhine river. The construction took place between 1842-1854, although it was almost completed in 1847: King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II intervened decisively on matters of decoration and symbolism. Among others, the King suggested vault arches, Medieval and Islamic elements be included, and he also designed an exquisitely ornate window for the main façade (inspired by the chapter house window of the Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar).

After the death of Ferdinand the palace passed into the possession of his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla. The latter 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. The last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night at the palace before leaving the country in exile.

Google map of Sintra showing the convoluted approach to the Palace de Pena

Sintra streets on the approach

The Sintra National Palace with its odd chimneys

Breakfast after we found our way into the Sintra maze

Sintra National Palace from above

The castle walls

Palace de Pena above us

Panorama looking down on the national palace and up to the castle

Images of the Palace de Pena

Note the NZ cabbage tree (right) which we also saw everywhere in Ireland

Two views of the chapel and altar

The throne room (Wikipedia)

Looking down on the castle walls from the palace

A sweeping panorama of the castle and Lisbon from the palace walls

Coming out again into Sintra city

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