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.
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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