The Pena Palacio is an astonishing example of the 19th Century Romantic architectural mouvement. Envisioned by King Ferdinand II as a perfect Royal retreat residence, the palace stands proudly above the town of Sintra. Not so far from Lisbon, yet in a total different environment, the Palace offers incredible views on the surrounding landscape, on the Castle of the Moors and the Atlantic Ocean.
The Park and Palace of Pena is part of the landscape of Sintra, a UNESCO World Heritage site sin 1995.
For a change, I’m not going to lay out this post in my usual way. If you would like to know more about the history of the Pena palace, you should check out the official website which includes lots of details: www.parquesdesintra.pt
Instead, I want to tell you a bit about the Romantic mouvement!!
The Romantic architecture mouvement
The Romantic architecture mouvement was mostly about reviving the Gothic architecture. A certain nostalgia for medieval times and the fondness for this fancy style were at the origins of the mouvement which was in complete opposition to the restrained and ordered classicism style.
Bu Romantic architecture wasn’t just about the architecture of monuments, it included the landscape. Following the Renaissance period, where nature was tamed (think of the structure and symmetry of the Park of Versailles), during the Romantic mouvement, the landscape created was to give an impression of nature in its pristine state. Parks were carefully designed and enhanced with cliffs, waterfalls and scattered temples, statues, fountains or other decorative pieces. Various areas were designed to host specific plants, to accommodate the taste of its creator.
A park from this period was to give the impression, to the person walking though it, of experiencing proximity with nature. It was to be “artistically laid out and developed so that nature could flourish in its setting as if in an unspoiled wilderness“. (William Gilpin, 1724-1804).
So artificially laid out but in an artistic manner in order to recreate the perfection of nature! Quite a concept when you think about it!!
And, surprisingly, it works. There is something magical, something whimsical about strolling through the Park of Pena. I guess that, in a way, we were lucky to have bad weather on the day of our visit. The mist and fog added to the mystery of the park.
Lose oneself… only to find oneself again through sensitivity and intuition….
The Pena Palace is quite astonishing on its own but the highlight of your visit will certainly be when you take the time to loose yourself in the park.
OK so I can’t let you go without showing you some pictures of the inside of the Palace. I just can’t!! So here is a small selection:
You may want to start your visit by going to the Church. Pass the Triton’s gate and you will find it on your right.
The Church is part of the remains of the 16th century monastery. The Altar piece is quite astonishing.
The Altar piece above dates from the 16th century. The picture below shows the monks’ stalls to the right of the chancel. Admire the lierne vault.
Detail of the lierne vault above and Manueline arch below.
Go back to the Tunnel of the Triton, where horse-drawn carriages would stop to allow their passengers to exit, being sheltered from rain or sun and to enter the Palace. Walk up these stairs…
You will next enter the palace through the 16th Century Cloister. A route reserved for the Royal family as their private apartments were located around such Cloister. The gallery arches were once closed with windows and was used by the Royal family as interior walkways between their different rooms.
The fern in the middle of the Cloister is several decades old.
The private apartments of the Royal family included their bedrooms, office and study and the below dining room, the former monastery refectory which still has its 16th century Manueline rib-vaulted ceiling. Tiles are from the 19th century.
Here is a map of the Palace!!
Once you walked around the 2 stories of the Cloister (left on the map), you will continue your visit with the other rooms of the old palace.
Pictures below is part of the bedroom of the lady in waiting. I loved this ceiling so much, I had to show you.
Queen Amelia tea room seemed quite nice as well!
If you pay attention during your visit, you will notice that there is only one Royal bedroom in this part of the Palace. King Ferdinand II shared a bedroom with his second wife. Something very unusual at that time!
I must show you this incredible piece of furniture: This is a portable bidet. You will often find bidet in France, but I had never seen a portable one and especially not one covered with velvet!
All the rooms you will pass by, display a fair amount of diverse furniture. The below desk was the favorite of Mr A. A sort of architect desk where you can raise or lower the central piece to drawn comfortably.
All the rooms in the old palace, are configured the same way: 2 doors on each side which enable you to walk in the center while admiring the furniture on each side and the room decoration. This, to me was pretty unusual. Most French chateau have rooms ‘en enfilade’ like this, but doors are rarely in the middle.
Before arriving to the new Palace, one room you will pass by is the telephone room. The picture below doesn’t show the original telephone but it’s still pretty cool! 😉
Stop for a while in the arabic room to admire the Trompe l’oeil and try to figure out what’s real and what’s not!
Once you arrive in the New Palace, you will most likely be taken by the size as you realize the ceiling heigh in the old palace was much much lower.
Below is the Great Hall which was, of course, used to host dinners and balls.
Last, you will get to visit the kitchen with an impressive collection of iron pans!
So what about the outside? Well as you can guess from the fog in the Park, the Palace was also surrounded by such fog!! Still pretty cool!!
Below is the Triton gate.
Yes very very foggy!! And windy!! And cold! And all of this in May. It seems that Sintra has a very specific micro climate which makes this possible!
The Technical bits:
The official website: www.parquesdesintra.pt
People seems to have mixed feelings about their visit to Pena. In my humble opinion, it does mostly have to do with the considerable amount of tourists who flood the place. Most also seems to regret paying the entrance of the palace. Again in my opinion, it has to do with the amount of people cramped between the ropes in each room.
The architecture inside the palace is very impressive and worth your time. Each room has a totally different look and you can only admire the intricate details of the ceilings, the decorations and furniture. Talking about furniture, maybe there are too many pieces in each room and it makes it hard to really appreciate each and every ones of them. But at least you get to see lots of surprising pieces.
So how do you avoid being disappointed?
- Visit on a rainy day. Bad weather will put off most people!
- Visit early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. What is a common advice for most places is particularly true for Sintra as most people come with a morning train and go back to Lisbon, in the late afternoon. Sintra is overall much quieter in the early evening.
- Bonus: Take your headphones and cut out the noise of petty conversations. 😉
If you’re interested to find out more, check out this guide on Amazon (affiliated link). Scala seems to be the editor of all the Portuguese guide books and I have no doubt this guide is as good as the other ones I got (for Pena mine is called ‘Park and Palace of Pena’).
Next I’ll take you to the Castle of the Moors where you get the best view of the Pena Palace.