Sintra’s Pena Palace
February 26th, 2021
Today we’re west of Lisbon, in Sintra, exploring Pena Palace. Painted in such vibrant colors, the fairy tale exterior belies the palace’s 600+ year history as (among other things) a former home of the royal family of Portugal. Together with the blue sky, the trio of primary colors and jumble of mixed shapes are an odd sight but intriguing enough to beckon thousands of visitors in non-Covid times.
This post is split up and reshaped from my original in 2017.
Have a look around. Tomorrow we’ll compare and contrast from next door.
P.S. Happy weekend! I look forward to catching up on your blog posts and replying to comments tomorrow.
Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.
We’re standing on a mountaintop west of Lisbon. We’ve lucked out. It’s one of those perfect days when the blue sky extends all the way down to the horizon. To get here, we drove west from Lisbon to Sintra, parked the car, walked partially up the hill, stopped to think about it, hired a mototaxi, arrived at the ticket booth of Pena Palace and climbed the final path to the entrance. This is not an easy place to get to but no mountaintop view comes without a cost.
Pena Palace is an example of Romanticism in architecture — emotional, eccentric and highly imaginative. It’s definitely romantic, inspiring visions of Rapunzel unfurling her hair from the turrets. With its fanciful spires and crenellations, it looks more like a castle than a palace to me.
Pena Palace is a Unesco World Heritage Site which was first a chapel, then developed into a monastery in the late 1400s, then destroyed by the earthquake of 1755 and rebuilt in the mid-1800s by King-Consort Ferdinand (husband of Queen Maria II) as a residence for Portugal’s royal family. The palace became a national landmark in the early 1900s.
King Ferdinand was also known as King-Artist — a moniker that developed from his interest in art, music and languages. To create Pena Palace, King Ferdinand worked with German architect Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, whose work here may bear some similarities with castles of his home country.
The palace’s madder and yellow exterior projects exuberance but I imagine all the history, all the love and fear, all the sunny days and terrible storms, all the glorious moments and sad departures that have happened at this mountain monument throughout the last centuries.
A mythical Triton stares down from the front of the palace. I’m not sure what he’s doing in that clam shell but he’s eternally posed and begs for a photo.
The palace interior tells less of a fairy tale, more of a biography. Weathered tiles cover the courtyard and residential spaces display the furnishings of the day. The dining room drips with character and I imagine a royal dinner for twelve or a candlelight tryst between two lovers with Madeira wine and the silence of the stone walls.
The kitchen, bright with sunlight and an enviable range of copper cookware, feels almost luxurious with its farmhouse style and arched ceiling. But of course there was no refrigerator, or dishwasher, or even running water back in the day.
I remind myself to mind all the gaps here at Pena Palace. The battlements are thick but the many high and precarious viewpoints could be deadly for anyone absorbed in a quest for the perfect selfie.
We mototaxi back down the hill and find some lunch in the lovely town of Sintra. We tuck around the back of Lawrence’s Restaurant and have the balcony to ourselves. After lunch we debate about driving back up the hill to see Castelo dos Mouros, the Moorish Castle. Can it really be that spectacular after seeing such an overwhelming example of Romantic architecture?
We’ll find out tomorrow!