Since medieval times, there was smallish monastery in Sintra which was dedicated to Saint Jerome and run by his order. The Great Lisbon Earth quake of 1755 was terrible for the monastery, reducing most of it to ruins. But Saint Jerome must have been looking after the chapel because the chapel and its marble art objects escaped destruction.
exterior of Pena palace, recently repainted. The clocktower is red.
One of King Pedro I of Brasil/Pedro IV of Portugal’s most significant acts in 1834 was to suppress all religious orders and to confiscate their property. Several years later, in 1838, King consort Ferdinand II decided to build a summer palace for the Portuguese royal family. So it was no problem for the royals to take over the old monastery remains in Sintra, all of the surrounding lands, the nearby Castle of the Moors and a few other estates in the area. The monastery had stood on the top of a rocky hill above the town of Sintra, with 360º views of the valley and the gardens that surround the complex. And the new palace would have the same splendid views.
Pena National Palace in Sintra was built (during the years 1842-1854) by a German architect Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Schwege in a mixture of architectural styles. Whether the mixture was the architect’s taste or not, it is interesting to me that the royal family asked for medieval elements be included. It is even more to their royal credit that elements of the old convent were preserved wherever possible eg the cloister, dining room, sacristy and chapel. Richly decorated walls are all over the interior, covered either with tiles or painted walls.
The clock tower, which looks medieval, actually wasn't built until 1843. But it was all part of the medieval, the romantic, the eccentric, the poetic and the flamboyant. So, I assume, were the turrets, towers, ramparts, secret passages and fortified gates.
National Palace, decorated ceilings
The palace remained one of the main royal family residencies for decades. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910, the palace was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum. The rooms were left exactly as they were when the last royal closed the front door.
National Palace chapel, panelled and decorated walls
By the end of the 20th century, the palace was repainted and the original colours restored. However it must be said that many citizens didn’t like the bright colours and didn’t think they were appropriate for a royal palace. The palace has recently been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is still used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials. At all other times, tourists can enjoy the day visit out of Lisbon, only 40 minutes away by train.
The park that completely surrounds Pena Palace was created by Ferdinand II at the same time as the palace. Of course Ferdinand was not alone in this massive task - he worked with a baron with expertise in landscaping and botany, and with German architect Baron von Schwege. Today the forest is still filled with walking paths, fantasy buildings, fountains and lakes. But the plants are a surprise. Visitors will immediately recognise Australian, Japanese, Chinese and North American trees.
Pena Park looking up towards the palace.
And for art-oriented visitors, The Sintra Museum of Modern Art is special. The Berardo Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, an important international collection of 20th century European and American art, has been open since 1987. José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo is a wealthy Portuguese financier with mining interests in South Africa, Canada, Portugal and Australia. But his passion is modern art. Launching the collection was one of Berardo's priorities in life and it was with great satisfaction that he saw it classified as one of the best private collections in Europe by the Independent (11th Aug 1998). The article was called ”Beyond the Guggenheim”.