sintra: palácio nacional de sintra

Friday, July 19:  After exploring the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio Nacional da Pena, I take the Scotturb bus back into Sintra-Vila.   Since I have so few opportunities to get pictures of myself on my holiday, I bought one of those pictures taken by a photographer at Palácio Nacional da Pena.  It’s an 8×11″ picture, and quite large to carry, so I decide I’ll return to Piela’s to drop off the picture, eat some lunch and maybe visit the Friday market that Manuel told me about this morning.

Right across from the train station is a little cafe with outdoor tables; there I order a codfish croquette and a shrimp & cheese croquette and sit outdoors to eat.  It’s still lovely weather in Sintra and I love being outdoors as much as possible.

After lunch, I walk down the pedestrian walk toward Piela’s and I come across a little market with these enticing figs. I buy four of them and take them back to my room.

Figs in a market in Sintra
Figs in a market in Sintra
Fresh strawberries
Fresh strawberries

By the time I get back to Piela’s, it’s close to 2:30, and Manuel tells me that the Friday market is over.  I’m disappointed that I missed it!  Oh well, what can be done?   I drop the picture in my room, eat a couple of my figs, and head back out to Sintra-Vila to see the Palácio Nacional de Sintra.  Below, you can see the two conical chimneys, one of which is ugly gray concrete.  I thought this was some kind of factory when I first arrived in Sintra.

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. It is an important tourist attraction and is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

According to Lonely Planet Portugal, the palace had Moorish origins; it later was expanded by Dom Dinis (1261-1325), enlarged by King John I in the 15th century (when the kitchens were built), then given a Manueline twist by Manuel I in the following century.

Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

There are some interesting sculptures along the Alameda Volte do Duche on the way to Sintra-Vila.

sculpture on the
sculpture on the

Even though the Palácio Nacional de Sintra isn’t much to look at from the outside, because of renovations and scaffolding hugging the building, and because of those ugly chimneys, it’s lovely inside.  The interior is a mixture of Moorish and Manueline styles, with 15th- and 16th-century geometric azulejos that figure among Portugal’s oldest.

The earliest azulejos in the 15th century were imported from Seville by king Manuel I after a visit to that town in 1503. They were glazed in a single colour and decorated with geometric patterns. They were applied on walls and used for paving floors. The Portuguese adopted the Moorish tradition of horror vacui (‘fear of empty spaces’) and covered the walls completely with azulejos.

tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The octagonal Sala dos Cisnes (Swan Room) is adorned with frescoes of 27 gold-collared swans.

the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
27 gold-collared swans in the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
27 gold-collared swans in the Swan Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
inside Palácio Nacional de Sintra
inside Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The Sala das Pegas (the Magpie Room) is painted with magpies on the ceiling. This relates to a story that the king John I was caught in the act of kissing a lady-in-waiting by his queen Philippa of Lancaster. To put a stop to all the gossip, he had the room decorated with as many magpies as there were women at the court.

the Magpie Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
the Magpie Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Bedroom in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Bedroom in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Tiles in Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Another highlight of the Palace is the Galleon Room.

the Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
the Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Galleon Room at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Blazon’s Hall is all ablaze with colorful tiles from the walls to the ceiling.

Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
ceiling in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
ceiling in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
azulejo tiles in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
azulejo tiles in Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Blazons Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

The earliest surviving part of the castle is the Royal Chapel, possibly built during the reign of King Dinis I in the early 14th century.

the Palatine Chapel
the Palatine Chapel
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
tiles at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Inside the huge kitchen, I can look up into the conical chimneys, but they don’t make for very interesting pictures.

kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
kitchen at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

King Manuel ordered the Manueline Hall’s construction.

Manueline Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Manueline Hall at Palácio Nacional de Sintra

On the steps of the palace, I can see the pretty town of Sintra-Vila and the Castelo dos Mouros on the hill above.

Sintra-Vila from the Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Sintra-Vila from the Palácio Nacional de Sintra
fountain at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
fountain at Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Palácio Nacional de Sintra

After exploring the palace, walking around Sintra-Vila, stopping in the central square for a sparkling water and buying a couple of scarves at a little shop, I walk back up to Piela’s, where, once again, I admire the colorful manor houses.  At the Cafe, I sit with my computer and sip on a couple of beers while I chat on Skype with my friend Jayne in California and work on my blog.  Again, I love how people drop into the cafe, quickly down a beer at the glass pastry case, and then make a quick exit.

Manor houses in Sintra
Manor houses in Sintra
Manor houses in Palácio Nacional de Sintra
Manor houses in Palácio Nacional de Sintra

Manuel has recommended two restaurants in town that are frequented by locals.  He says they’re very good, have vegetarian options and are cheaper than the touristy places in Sintra-Vila.  I seek out one of his recommended places tonight for dinner: Culto da Tasca.  As I walk to the restaurant, a chilly wind cuts through my lightweight clothing to my bones. The sky is heavy with smudges of charcoal; it looks like a storm is brewing.  Inside the restaurant, it’s homey and warm, a welcome reprieve from the cold!   The place is brimming with lively Portuguese families.

Culto da Tasca
Culto da Tasca

I order cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms, accompanied by rice and fries and a glass of wine.  Bread and olives are included, all for 11.20 euros.  This price for all that is unheard of in these parts!  And it is simply delicious. 🙂

cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms at Culto da Tasca
cream with prawns, bacon & mushrooms at Culto da Tasca

I return to Cafe Piela’s, where I hunker in for the night, while a cold wind blows outside my window.

sintra: palácio nacional da pena

Friday, July 19:   After visiting the Moorish Castle,  I take the Scotturb bus to visit the Palácio Nacional da Pena, or the Pena National Palace, a 19th-century Romanticist palace that stands on a hilltop adjacent to the Moorish Castle.  On a clear day it can be easily seen from the metropolitan area of Lisbon, rising up like some fantasy from a thickly wooded, and sometimes mist-enshrouded, peak.

Yet another stunning place in Sintra!

Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena

Pena National Palace is a fairy tale-like national monument, with a bewildering array of onion domes, stone snakes, Moorish keyhole gates and arches, colorful tile walls, and crenellated towers in pinks and lemons. The Pena Palace has a profusion of styles in line with the exotic taste of Romanticism. The intentional mixture of eclectic styles includes the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance.

Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
me at Pena National Palace
me at Pena National Palace
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena

The history of Pena National Palace began in the Middle Ages when a chapel was built here, Our Lady of Pena, after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.

Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Moorish arches
Moorish arches
Tilework at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Tilework at Palácio Nacional da Pena
arches with a view at Palácio Nacional da Pena
arches with a view at Palácio Nacional da Pena

In 1493, King John II and his wife Queen Leonor visited the site to fulfill a vow.  His successor, King Manuel I, who was also fond of the site, built a monastery here donated to the Order of Saint Jerome.  It was a quiet meditative place housing no more than 18 monks.  In the 18th century, it was damaged by lightning and then was mostly reduced to ruins during The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755.  In the mid-19th century, King Ferdinand II fell in love with the site, and decided to build a summer palace here for the Portuguese Royal Family.  Construction took place from 1842-1854.

Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Cloister at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Cloister at Palácio Nacional da Pena

In 1889, it was bought by the Portuguese state and has since become a major tourist attraction. Over time the colors of the red and yellow façades faded, and for many years the palace was visually identified as being entirely gray. By the end of the 20th century the palace was repainted and the original colors restored, much to the dismay of many Portuguese who were not aware that the palace had once displayed such chromatic variety.

inside Palácio Nacional da Pena
inside Palácio Nacional da Pena
a chaise lounge at Palácio Nacional da Pena
a chaise lounge at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Cloister at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Cloister at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Cloister with tile work at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Cloister with tile work at Palácio Nacional da Pena

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

ceiling at Palácio Nacional da Pena
ceiling at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena

In 1995, the palace and the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  It’s also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Of these Seven Wonders, the only other one I see while in Portugal is Belém Tower in Lisbon.

looking down from the Queen's balcony at Palácio Nacional da Pena
looking down from the Queen’s balcony at Palácio Nacional da Pena
clock tower at Palácio Nacional da Pena
clock tower at Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
view of the Moorish Castle from Palácio Nacional da Pena
view of the Moorish Castle from Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena

It is also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials. (Wikipedia: Pena National Palace).

Palácio Nacional da Pena
Palácio Nacional da Pena
gardens at Palácio Nacional da Pena
gardens at Palácio Nacional da Pena
water gardens at Palácio Nacional da Pena
water gardens at Palácio Nacional da Pena
hydrangeas at Palácio Nacional da Pena
hydrangeas at Palácio Nacional da Pena
hydrangeas at Palácio Nacional da Pena
hydrangeas at Palácio Nacional da Pena
gardens at Palácio Nacional da Pena
gardens at Palácio Nacional da Pena

After spending awhile here, I take the bus back into Sintra-Vila where I hope to have a little lunch and visit the Friday market near my hotel.

sintra’s castelo dos mouros

Friday, July 19:  This morning I must fortify myself for a big day of castle-hopping through Sintra with a coffee and the decadent Portuguese egg tart pastry, pastel de nata, downstairs at Café Piela’s.  Today’s weather is superb, cool and crisp with cornflower blue skies overhead.  The owner of the café, Manuel, whose English is excellent, is chipper and welcoming and makes me feel like I’m eating breakfast at home.  It’s so lovely when traveling alone to have someone who makes you feel like you’re a part of the family, and not some pariah. 🙂

pastel de nata at Café Piela's
pastel de nata at Café Piela’s

I walk straightaway to the bus station where I catch the Scotturb Pena Sightseeing circular route bus (#434) to Castelo dos Mouros.

It’s quite a long walk through a fern and moss-filled forest up to the Castelo dos Mouros, or the Moorish Castle.

on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros
on the path to Castelo dos Mouros

When I reach the castle, and climb up on the ramparts, I am stunned by the view.  This is the second heart-stopping experience I have on my journey, the first being my initial encounter with the Mezquita in Cordoba (andalucía: córdoba’s stunning mezquita).  I know it sounds corny, but I feel a lump in my throat and actually feel like I’m going to cry!  It is so majestic and such a gorgeous panorama that it’s unbelievable that a place such as this actually exists.  There’s a wonderful breeze and the air is crisp and I can just imagine the Moors enjoying their mountaintop view over their kingdom all those centuries ago.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

The castle is an irregularly planned military outpost that follows a 450-meter perimeter on top of a mountainous cliff. It consists of a double line of military walls that meanders over the granite terrain of the promontory. Its place on the hilltop, surrounded by and including the natural and exotic vegetation, accentuates the romantic character of the place (Wikipedia: Castle of the Moors (Sintra)).

From the castle walls, I can see Sintra-Vila below with the chimneys of the Palácio Nacional da Pena.

View of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros

According to Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra, the origins of the castle date back to the 8th century with the Muslim invasion from the north of Africa.  The site of the castle provided a suitable vantage point with views over the estuary of the river Tejo and the plains to the north of Lisbon, with the aim of controlling the strategic land routes linking the Mafra, Sintra, Cascais and Lisbon.  Arab chronicles depict the Sintra region as being very rich in cultivated fields and the Castelo dos Mouros was one of the most important castles in the region, more important than the castle of central Lisbon.

The initial crusade led by King Alfonso VI of Castile captured the Castelo dos Mouros in 1093 but with limited forces was driven out the following year. The castle flourished with the return of the Moors and defensive fortifications were improved.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

The increase in fortifications was not enough to repel the second much larger crusade which freed Lisbon (and then Sintra) from Moorish rule in 1147. The crusader army led by Afonso Henrique’s army was comprised of drunks and thieves, who upon liberating Lisbon promptly sacked the capital.  Sintra and the Castelo dos Mouros withstood longer than Lisbon but succumbed to the siege and sheer numbers of the crusaders’ army. Afonso Henriques and his son D. Sancho both strengthened the castle’s defenses but the royal court favored Lisbon. The castle remained in the background, with its prestige steadily declining.  By the early 15th century, the only inhabitants were Jewish settlers. With the Jews’ expulsion from Portugal in the mid-15th century, the castle was abandoned (Sintra-Portugal.com: Castelo dos Mouros, Sintra).

View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros

Much of the Castelo dos Mouros was reconstructed during the 19th century as part of King Ferdinand II’s transformation of the Pena Palace and surrounding area.

Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Sintra-Vila & the Royal Palace of Sintra from Castelo dos Mouros

I can also see the fairy tale-like Quinta de Regaleira and its grounds.

View of Quinta da Regaleira from Castelo dos Mouros
View of Quinta da Regaleira from Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros with Sintra below
Castelo dos Mouros with Sintra below
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros

On an adjacent mountain, I can see the Palácio Nacional da Pena, which I will visit after leaving here.

view of Palace of Pena from Castelo dos Mouros
view of Palace of Pena from Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
me at Castelo dos Mouros
hydrangeas abound on the grounds of Castelo dos Mouros
hydrangeas abound on the grounds of Castelo dos Mouros
leaving the castle through the forest
leaving the castle through the forest
the forest at Castelo dos Mouros
the forest at Castelo dos Mouros

After leaving here, I catch the Scotturb bus on its circular route to the Palácio Nacional da Pena.