Friday, January 3, 2014

78. Palácio Nacional de Sintra

My final posting from Lisbon concerns the Sintra National Palace, which is located in the town of Sintra, a short distance North of Lisbon City.

I met up with Lisbon artist Pureza Oliveira, who has kindly offered to be my guide for the day ( … please check out her website < > ) ... 

We leave the city behind and drove along the wonderfully scenic North Coast road with the wild Atlantic roaring in on our left. First stop is Cabo de Roca – the most Westerly point of Europe – you could just about see New York across the ocean to the West !!! …

Then we head inland through many quaint ancient villages and down narrow walled laneways to the town of Sintra, where after lunch, we set off to explore the Palace.

It is the best preserved medieval Royal Palace in Portugal, having been inhabited more or less continuously at least from the early 15th up to the late 19th century. The history of the Palace goes back to the times of Islamic domination of the region, when Sintra had two different castles. One of them, located on top of a hill overlooking Sintra is the so-called Castle of the Moors, which is now a ruin. The other ( which we visited ), located downhill, was the residence of the Moorish rulers of the region.

Its first historical reference dates from the 10th century, and the mixture of Gothic, Manueline and Moorish styles in the present palace is, however, mainly the result of building campaigns in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Nothing built during Moorish rule or during the reign of the first Portuguese kings survives. 

The earliest surviving part of the palace is the Royal Chapel, possibly built during the reign of King Dinis I in the early 14th century. Much of the palace dates from the times of King John I, who sponsored a major building campaign starting around 1415.

Most buildings around the central courtyard date from this campaign - including the main building of the façade with the entrance arches and the mullioned windows in Manueline and Moorish styles, and the conical chimneys of the kitchen that dominate the skyline of the city – plus several other rooms in the palace.

The major building campaign that defined the structure and decoration of the Palace was sponsored by KingManuel I between 1497 and 1530, using the wealth engendered by the exploratory expeditions in this Age of Discoveries. The reign of this King saw the development of a transitional Gothic-Renaissance art style, as well as a kind of revival of Islamic artistic influence reflected in the choice of polychromed ceramic tiles as a preferred decorative art form.

King Manuel also built the Coats-of-Arms Room, with a magnificent wooden coffered domed ceiling decorated with 72 coat-of-arms of the King and the main Portuguese noble families. The coat-of-arms of the Tavora family was however removed after their conspiracy against King Joseph I ( … see previous blog .. ).

In the following centuries the Palace continued to be inhabited by Kings from time to time, gaining new decoration in the form of paintings, tile panels and furniture. A sad story associated with the Palace is that of the mentally unstable King Afonso VI, who was deposed by his brother Pedro II and forced to live without leaving the Palace from 1676 until his death in 1683.

During the 19th century, Sintra became again a favourite summer retreat for the royal court and several other important courtiers and noble families build beautiful mansions on the hillsides surrounding Sintra..  With the foundation of the Republic, in 1910, the Palace became a National Monument. In the 1940s, it was restored by architect Raul Lino, who tried to return the Palace to its former splendour by adding old furniture from other palaces and restoring the tile panels.

We didn’t climb the thousands of steps to the top of the other castle at Sintra – maybe another visit … Thank you Pureza for showing me around this beautiful part of sunny Portugal.

My time in Lisbon is fast coming to an end, and before I head off to another continent, I've got just one more blog from this part of the world - see you tomorrow ...