One more post on the incredible place that is the village of Sintra, just half an hour ride North from Lisbon.
When visiting all other extraordinary gems of architecture on the mountain, you can see colourful peaks of the towers peeking from behind the mountain top. Those colourful towers belong to the National Palace of Pena, which turned out quite a stunner for someone who grew up marveling at the castles in the Disney cartoons.
This palace is separated from all the other beautiful constructions on the mountain by its high location. It’s on the top of the mountain, and to get there you need to drive up a tiny, cobble stone road that twists and turns steeply every few meters.
And even when you get to the actual parking spot, you still need to climb further on foot. But what you find at the end of the steep ascend is well worth the trouble!
The palace used to accommodate Portuguese royalty, and still today it is sometimes used for state occasions by the President of Portugal or other government officials. But most of the time it is a fun park for tourists.
The National Palace of Pena served as a royal palace from 1838 but before that it was just a humble monastery. Since the Middle Ages the monastery was a place of pilgrimage until it was badly damaged by a lighting, and was almost entirely destroyed by the earthquake in 1755, which also destroyed over 80 per cent of the city of Lisbon.
Thankfully Prince Ferdinand decided to take upon the task of rebuilding this landmark. The old monastery was rebuilt and new parts added to it, which all together made the incredible Romanticism fairy tale castle that incorporates architectural elements from Islamic and Medieval elements.
What you notice first, when climbing up to the castle, is how every part of the castle is differently coloured. The red part is the Medieval monastery, with an added clock tower, and the blue part is the entrance building.
When you enter through the great archway into the courtyard your vision is bombarded with colours and spectacular details. Such as religious symbolism in the form of decorative carvings, and little towers queued up towards the entrance, where you can climb for the view and, obviously, for a selfie.
You’re so spoiled with great angles for photography!
The inside of the castle was just as decorative and full of religious symbolism from various religions as the outside facade. Beautiful furniture and wall art seasoned with incredible chandeliers. And I love a pretty chandelier!
The rooms were quite small but that much more cozy, and in this castle, just like in Quinta de Regaleira few kilometers down the hill, proper, decorative bathrooms were very noticeable.
It seems the Portuguese were always much more progressed than other European royalty when it comes to modern technology like plumbing, electricity and the telephone.
What I really liked about the castles in Sintra, was the fact that you can see even the kitchen. In most European palaces you never get to go downstairs to the kitchens, but here the kitchens were on ground level.
For someone who loves food and eating as much as I do, a kitchen is always a place of interest. And I couldn’t help but wonder what it must’ve been like when the space was teeming with people cutting vegetables, mending fires and cooking I want to know what.
The castles and palaces in Sintra all have extraordinary gardens. I praised the Quinta de Regaleira garden park in last week’s post, and was thus happy to see that Pena Palace also has a playground of a garden.
This park didn’t have towers and caves to climb up and into, but it did have incredible features like a stone throne, called the Queen’s Throne, opposite of the Palace, little lakes with tiny waterfalls, statues, and a beautiful little chalet dedicated to the Countess of Edla.
There were also some animals “on display”. In addition to horses you can see goats (all I could think of was fresh goat’s cheese!) and there is a luxury swan lake with a little tower and platforms for swans to climb on.
The vegetation consists of very thick layers of over 500 species of trees and flowers ordered and planted there from all over the world. Prince Ferdinand ordered stone benches to be erected in places where one can really take in the full might and beauty of their surroundings.
It all made the park quite a romantic place. Despite all the pain in my knees from the previous day’s excursions, I really enjoyed the Park of Pena. You can’t help but feel quite zen surrounded by so much greenery and beauty.
What struck us the most about the palace, and what I still can’t quite comprehend, is how the hell they managed to build a huge palace in a location like that!?
The whole construction sits on top of an uneven mountain with barely a road leading up to it. How the heck did they get the building materials up there, and how on Earth did they build it without modern technology and equipment, like scaffolding?
For this reason in particular, I think this is one of the most spectacular and extraordinary castles I’ve ever seen! A playful fairy tale castle with incredible symbolism and beautiful architecture that offers something for every kind of tourist. I recommend! xx