On the highest peaks of the Serra de Sintra stands the spectacular Palace of Pena. This eclectic medley of architectural styles was built in the 19th century for the husband of the young Queen Maria II (r. 1834-53), Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha — King Dom Fernando II of Portugal. It stands over the ruins of a Hieronymite monastery founded here in the 15th century on the site of the chapel of Nossa Senhora da Pena. The outlandish rooms of the enchanting summer palace are filled with oddities from all over the world. The monarchy was overthrown in 1910 and with the declaration of the Republic, the palace became a museum, preserved as it was when the royal family lived here.
BARON VON ESCHWEGE
In 1839, Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha acquired the well-positioned land of a former monastery and appointed the German architect Baron von Eschwege (1777-1855) to construct a fabulous summer palace. Von Eschwege turned the king’s extravagant dreams into reality and, over the following decade, he erected a fantasy palace around the restored ruins of the monastery. On a nearby crag is the statue of a warrior-knight that supposedly guards the palace It is an enormous stone sculpture whose base bears an engraving of the baron’s coat of arms.
THE PALACE’S DESIGN
Ferdinand’s passion for the arts, and for scientific progress, resulted in an eclectic mix of architectural styles that included Gothic, Renaissance and elements of the rich, indigenous Portugeuse style, Manueline. Painted in shades of pink, blue, and yellow, the exterior of the building is lavishly carved or covered with azulejo tile arrangements, with golden domes, crenellated turrets, and gargoyles. Inside the palace, highlights include the Renaissance retable by sculptor Nicolau Chanterene (chapel altarpiece) and the exotic furniture, which contribute to the prevailing air of decadence.
Sintra has long been regarded as an enchanting place of outstanding beauty, internationally revered by kings, noblemen, and artists. In 1809, the English poet Lord Byron described its verdant beauty as “glorious Eden,” and further praise was given in Os Lusiadas, Portugal’s celebrated 16th-century epic poem by Luis Vaz de Camoes. The Palace of Pena’s garish union of styles, including exotic Gothic traces, made it a forerunner of European Romanticism. Largely inspired by Bavarian palaces, Arab, Portuguese, German, Classical, and Romantic influences were combined to create a unique, and at times bizarre, effect. The surrounding grounds of the Parque da Pena are also of striking romantic beauty, filled with exotic trees and shrubs and containing the chalet Ferdinand had built for his mistress.
Copper pots and utensils still hang around the iron stove here. A dinner service bears the coat of arms of Ferdinand II.
This oval-shaped room is decorated with green walls and a stuccoed ceiling. A portrait of Manuel II, the last king of Portugal, hangs above the fireplace.
This spacious room is sumptuously furnished with German stained-glass windows, precious Oriental porcelain, and four life-size turbaned torchbearers holding giant candelabras.
The impressive 16th-century alabaster and marble retable was sculpted by Nicolau Chanterene. Each niche portrays a scene of the life of Christ, from the manger to the Ascension.
Decorated with colorful patterned tiles, this is part of the original monastery buildings.
Marvelous trompe-l’oeil frescoes cover the walls and ceiling of the Arab Room, one of the loveliest in the palace. The Orient was a great inspiration to Romanticism.
This is encrusted with Neo-Manueline decoration and is guarded by a fierce sea monster.
A studded archway with crenellated turrets greets visitors at the entrance to the palace. Th e palace buildings are painted in the original daffodil yellow and strawberry pink.
FERDINAND: KING CONSORT
Ferdinand was known in Portugal as “the artist king.” Like his cousin Albert, who married Britain’s Queen Victoria, he loved nature, art, and the new inventions of the time. Ferdinand enthusiastically adopted his new country and devoted his life to the arts. In 1869, 16 years after the death of Maria II, Ferdinand married his mistress, the opera singer Countess Edla. His lifelong dream of building the palace at Pena was realized in 1885, the year he died.
The palace hosts a number of live events throughout the year. These include concerts of classical music, exhibitions, ballets, and historical plays performed by internationally acclaimed artistes.
1400s: The Hieronymite monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena is founded here.
1839: Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha buys the ruins of the monastery with the intention of turning it into a palace.
1840s: Baron von Eschwege puts the king’s ideas into effect, preserving the original monastery cloister and chapel.
1910: The palace s classified as a national monument and opens to the public as a museum.
1995: The palace,, along with the city of Sintra, are added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.