Even though Portugal is no longer a monarchy, the Portuguese Royal Family has left behind some very interesting and special royal palaces. A very different, extraordinary royal palace is the Royal Palace of Pena or Pálacio Nacional da Pena in Portuguese. Our Europe Correspondent Laura Dekkers visited the palace and gives her report on the treasure of Sintra.
The Pálacio da Pena is situated on a hill 450 metres above the municipality of Sintra in the Lisbon region. The palace became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 and is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. The palace is located in a large park. It was King Ferdinand II who gave the order to build the palace. The palace is built on the ruins of a monastery that was destroyed in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. The construction of the palace started in 1838, and it is believed that King Ferdinand already lived in the palace even though it was not yet finished. In the 1860s the palace came to be fully habitable.
The Pálacio da Pena is a unique palace in many different ways. The palace was like nothing I’ve seen before. First of all, it has very bright colours. The palace is yellow, red, blue and some walls have been decorated with very beautiful tiles. The palace looks like it belongs in Disney World rather than being an actual Royal Palace. The attention to detail is very remarkable given that it was built centuries ago. The palace is not made in one style it combines different styles such as Neo-Gothic, Neo-Islamic, Romanticism and Neo-Renaissance.
The inside of the palace does not consist of large rooms with very high ceilings as most royal palaces do. The rooms were rather small and cosy.
In total there are four periods in history in which the palace was inhabited by the Portuguese Royal Family. The first period was, as mentioned previously, when it was still under construction, and King Ferdinand II was residing there. Ferdinand was a Prince of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha and only became King of Portugal after he married Queen Maria II of Portugal. King Ferdinand II was the cousin of Queen Victoria and the nephew of King Leopold of the Belgians. Queen Maria II died after giving birth to their 11th child.
King Ferdinand II then married to Elise, Countess of Edla. This was the second period in which the Pálacio da Pena was inhabited by the Portuguese Royal Family. The couple lived a quiet life in the palace. When King Ferdinand died, he left the grounds to his second wife. Under pressure, the Countess of Edla transferred the ownership of the palace to the Portuguese Crown, but she was allowed to live in the palace until her death.
In 1890 King Carlos and his wife Dona Amélia of Orléans received the right to live in the palace. They often stayed there throughout their reign during the summer months. Also, their children, Crown Prince Luis Felipe and Prince Manuel had their own separate quarters.
In 1908 disaster struck – King Carlos and the Crown Prince were murdered. It was Manuel who became the last King of Portugal. Queen Amélia stayed in the palace until the republican regime was installed.
The palace has been open to visitors for a very long time, and many tourists visit the site each year. As the Portuguese Royal Family no longer owns the palace, you are able to tour almost all the rooms, from the bathroom to their private chapels. Let’s take a look at some of the more spectacular rooms:
First, there is the private dining room which was decorated by King Ferdinand II. The oak furniture was commissioned in 1866.
In the room pictured below, the Royal Family used to receive their guests.
Tourists can also visit the kitchen. Surely it was not a place where the Royal Family used to spend a lot of time. The banquets were prepared in this main kitchen of the Pálacio da Pena.
The details of the ceilings and walls are absolutely extraordinary.
Pálacio da Pena is definitely worth a visit if you are passing through Portugal. It is very different than most royal palaces and absolutely stunning. The pictures don’t quite catch the beauty of the place. Just make sure to wear proper shoes and that you are in shape because the hill on which the palace is built is very steep.