When arriving in Sintra, chances are that you will want to head straight to the colorful Pena Palace. Quite frankly, I get it! It is so photogenic, it is part of all the tours, (almost) always recommended by bloggers, it is a postcard dream come true… And chances are that because your time in Sintra is limited, you want to see the most popular places.
I’m not saying the National Palace of Sintra isn’t popular. But it does seem slightly overlooked compare to the Pena Palace, the Moors Castle or the Quinta da Regaleira Palace and its initiation well. And it shouldn’t! It’s really an astonishing place and seeing the Coats of Arms room, alone, makes the visit worthwhile.
But first just a tad of history & Architecture
The current layout of the Sintra Palace dates from the 16th century but part of the palace was constructed much earlier. Originally a Moorish palace, it was mentioned in texts as early as the 11th century. When standing in front of it, you won’t truly realize how big it is as most of the palace spreads behind the facade, in an intricate succession of stylish rooms and private patios & gardens.
King Dinis (1261-1325) had the chapel built. Whereas the Swan room exist thanks to King Joaol I (1356-1433). King Manuel I (1469-1521) commissioned the Coats of Arms room and the East wing of the Palace. Because the Palace was built over so many years to not say centuries, it is a remarkable representation of medieval style and specifically the Mudéjar style (a fusion of Christian and Muslim art).
The Palace also displays an incredible collection of Hispano-Moresque tiles, some with incredible relief. Tiles were used inside for decoration but also to keep the rooms cool during hot summers.
The Palace was a Royal residence much used during the summer but also during hunting season, or to escape plagues outbreak in Lisbon. The Palace of Sintra truly has an outstanding historical, architectural and artistic value and is part of the monuments added to the UNESCO World Heritage list as the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”.
Visit of the Palace of Sintra
Your visit will start in the courtyard which is open now but was closed in the past by a succession of buildings surrounding this space which was used for various activities like tournaments.
After purchasing your ticket you will enter the palace by a staircase which will take you after the Archers’ room into the Swan room:
The archers room above and the Swan room below
The Swan Room or great hall is the biggest room of the Palace. The Moorish influence can be seen in the tiling around the horseshoe arches of the windows whereas the wooden ceiling dates from the 16th century (renaissance style). The 27 white swans, symbol of purity and fidelity, are adorned by octogonal frames which form an intricate ceiling.
The Magpie room was King Duarte received the kingdom’s dignitaries and foreign ambassadors is most famous for it’s painted ceiling displaying 136 magpies
King Sebastiao’s bedchamber (16th century) was previously referred as the Golden Chamber probably thanks to the gilded decoration of the walls and ceiling.
The wall decoration displays now 16th century exquisite tiles of vines leafs in relief, crowned by fleur de lys tiles.
One of the next room you will enter is the Mermaid Room. What is absolutely striking is the difference in style of the tiles. Still vine leafs but totally different! Of course the ceiling shows mermaids playing different instruments!
The Coat of Arms Room is a square room with an octagonal cupola where you can spend your whole day admiring the details.
Built in the early 16th century, the walls are decorated with tile panels dating from the 18th century and depicting bucolic and hunting scenes.
What is absolutely breathtaking, in this room, is the cupola! In the center, the arms of Portugal. Around, the coats of arms of King Manuel’s 8 children (I have to wonder what he would have done if he had had 7 or 9 children?! 😉 )
And on the lower level, the 72 blasons of the most influential families at the time.
Another true gem of the Palace is its Palatine Chapel with it’s incredible Mudéjar style. The ceiling was created using the alfarge technique of wood carving. Just incredible!
The Arab Room has a fountain in its center (not in the picture, sorry!), and an incredible amount of doors.
Your visit will finally take you to the kitchen! Why finally?! I just couldn’t wait to see the incredible chimneys from inside and chances are you will want to see that too!! Those chimneys are 33m tall so you can imagine the size of the kitchen.
The below picture just doesn’t do it justice but because the kitchen are still used today and were being renovated, I couldn’t find a better angle. But believe me, it’s quite impressive!
Your visit will end in this Manueline Room which chandelier is whao!
Note: this isn’t a complete tour as there are other rooms which you will get to visit. Some more random pictures?
The Manueline door to the Coat of Arms room:
Details of some tiles:
A simple yet beautiful staircase:
Jules Caesar room:
The Galley room :
One of the inside patios:
And there are more to see!!
The map of the Sintra Palace provided to visitors.
The Technical bits:
The official website: www.parquesdesintra.pt
The Sintra Palace is unmissable. Situated in the historic center of Sintra, its white silhouette crowned by the 2 enormous conic chimneys, stand out in the Sintra landscape.
Don’t forget to stroll through the old city streets in front of the palace. They are as charming as can be!
Need some inspiration for your next road trip in Portugal?
Check out the map I created for you: