Saturday, December 28, 2013

75. The Palacio Nacional de Ajuda

On a cold wet Lisbon afternoon I head for the Ajuda National Palace - a magnificent Lisbon building in the neoclassical style built on the site of a temporary wooden building constructed to house the Royal family after the 1755 earthquake and tsunami.


The construction of the Ajuda Palace, which began in 1796 and lasted until the 19th century, was a project plagued by various and diverse political, economic and artistic/architectonic problems. Lack of financial resources also resulted in the reduction of the project’s scale. However, visiting the Palace today and wandering from room to room, you can't help but be amazed at the opulence of this 19th century royal residence with its beautiful tapestries and silk covered walls and its blinding chandeliers and stunning marble sculptures ...
 
Going back to the beginning ... On 1 November 1755, on the day of the Lisbon earthquake, the Royal Family was in near-by Belém, and escaped the destruction of Lisbon by the earthquake and tsunami.
Perturbed by the events, King Joseph refused to live under a residence of masonry, and took refuge in a wooden shack next to the Palace of the Counts of Óbidos. As the Royal family continued to fear for the viability of their palace in Lisbon, the King ordered the construction of a more permanent wooden building in the heights of Alto da Ajuda and the royal architects began building an elaborate structure from wood. 
The Paço de Madeira (Wood Palace) was completed on 20 September 1761. The court remained at this site for nearly three decades, in a luxurious atmosphere of the golden age of enlightened despotism, until the King's death in 1777. 
 
In November 1794, during the reign of Queen Mary I the royal tent was destroyed by fire, although the fire-fighters were able to save the library and church. A more permanent dwelling was conceived and building commenced in 1795.
 
In 1807 the Royal Family had to flee to Brazil following the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon's troops. During his absence, work on the Palace continued, and by 1821, when John VI of Portugal returned from exile in Brazil, though much building progress had been made, the Palace had not yet been completed, and only permitted some state and ceremonial protocols (such as John's investiture in the Order of the Garter in 1823).
 
 
Finally, in 1826 after years of building, the palace began to be used as a Royal Residence, when the young Queen Maria II, wanted to turn Ajuda into a habitable palace. It was proposed to the architects that the project's scale be reduced, encompassing only one-third of the original design. During the second half of the 19th century, new construction in the Palace was specifically designed to make use of the space by the Royal Family.
 
Following the tragic deaths of members of the Royal Family in 1861 from typhoid fever, King Luis was proclaimed monarch on 22 December 1861 and shortly there after married Maria Pia – the 14 year-old daughter of King Victor Emmanuel of Italy - and on 16 April 1862, the new King and his wife, moved into the Palace transforming it into the formal Royal Residence. The Queen gave birth to her first son ( later to become King Carlos ) when she was at the age of just 16 years.  
 
In order to become liveable, the King directed Possidónio da Silva and Costa Sequeira to renovate and remodel the building, primarily based on the tastes of his young Queen.
 

After the death of her husband, Queen Maria Pia continued to live in the palace with her second son, the Infante Afonso. Although her first son Carlos - now King -  began to reside in another royal palace, the Ajuda Palace (still the residence of the Queen Mother) was reserved for official ceremonies, including banquets and receptions.
 
With the 1910 Revolution all work on the Palace ceased and it was closed, beginning a new phase of neglect that would later result in the flooding of the library by rainwater in 1925.
 
In 1934, a new plan to complete the building, was deferred owing to the costs associated with the project. But the Republican government did inventory of the furniture and artwork, and, along with many of artefacts from other Palaces, used the Ajuda Palace to store these precious Portuguese artworks. In 1938 the Palace was opened as a museum, and in 1954 the Casa Forte (Vault) was opened in order to exhibit the Portuguese Crown Jewels and silverware of the Royal Household.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The day I visited the Palace it was all but deserted of other visitors – with only one guard on duty - so it was quite interesting to walk from chamber to chamber as though it was my own domain. When I entered the Queen’s bedchamber ( !!! ) I noticed a rather large black telephone circa 1940s on a small table. While I was totally absorbed in absorbing all the details of this beautiful room, the phone rang !!!!what was I to do … maybe it was the King wanting to know if he could join the Queen between the sheets – what should I say … my moment of fantasy was very brief and I was snapped smartly back into reality by the clomping of the one museum guard as he rushed puffing down the endless corridor to take the call … alas I shall never know what the caller wanted maybe it was the guard’s mother wanting to know what he would like for dinner … 

   Queen Maria Pia
 
As Queen, Maria Pia was considered by some as extravagant, but far more for her many charitable works in aid of the Portuguese people. She was known by the Portuguese people as an "angel of charity" and "mother of the poor" for her compassion and work on social causes. As Queen, she necessarily was involved in court balls, fashion and masquerades. At a masquerade ball in 1865, she changed her costume three times.
 
When the Portuguese parliament discussed her expenses, Maria Pia replied saying "if you want a Queen, you have to pay for her".
As Queen, Maria Pia was largely responsible for the interiors of the Ajuda Royal Palace, still used to this day for banquets during state visits by foreign heads of state.
King Luís died on 19 October 1889 and Maria Pia became Queen Dowager. She remained very active and continued with her social projects while holding a dominating position at court. She served as regent during the absence of the new king and queen abroad.
The Queen Dowager was devastated after the assassination of her son King Carlos I and grandson Crown Prince Luis Filipe, on 1 February 1908 on the Praco de Commercio in Lisbon, and during her last years in Portugal, she withdrew from the public eye.
Maria Pia was also deeply upset by the military coup that deposed her remaining grandson King Manuel II by the 05 October 1910 Revolution and the forced establishment of the Portuguese First Republic without the will of the people.
Maria Pia left Portugal with the rest of the royal family on board the royal yacht into exile in 1910. She returned to her native Italy, where she died on 5 July 1911. She is said to have mourned the loss of Portugal.
 
 
The Ajuda National Palace is located on a hilltop of the central part of Ajuda overlooking the historic centre of Lisbon and the Tagus River. Although the Palace occupies a block on the heights of Ajuda, its delineated space extends to several gardens and lands around the main building including the Jardim Botanico (Botanical Garden) across the street from the Palace.
 
 
 
 The Head Gardener 
Lisbon boasts many beautiful Palaces - too many for this tourist to visit - but I certainly enjoyed my afternoon here at the Palacio Nacional de Ajuda ...