A Monument of Faith: The Magnificent Pena Palace in Sintra
Sintra is a lovely town which is found near Lisbon in Portugal. It is one of the most popular places in Portugal and is protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is also one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. A beautiful castle on the top of the hill in the Sintra Mountains, called The Pena Palace, still inspires artists and attracts tourists. Its long story is so rich that it is hard to believe that all the events really happened in just one place.
The Medieval Lady of Pena
The castle was built on the site of a medieval chapel dedicated to the local Virgin Mary call “Our Lady of Pena.” This site gained religious importance after a reporting of the apparition of the Virgin Mary. The chapel to honor the Virgin was built on the top of the hill and many people pilgrimaged there. In 1493, the site had two more special visitors; King John II of Portugal and his wife Queen Leonor climbed up the mountain to honor their patron.
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When the king saw the magnificence of this place he decided to found a sanctuary there, and ordered for the building of a monastery - which was donated to the Order of Saint Jerome. Until the 18th century it was just a small structure which housed about 18 monks and it was seen as one of the most mysterious places in Portugal. This was where people went to ask the Virgin Mary for help, but also an isolated area for the monks, whose life and death were focused in one place.
Order or Saint Hieronymus coat of arms. (Public Domain)
During the 1700s, the medieval monastery was damaged a few times by lightning. However, the heaviest damage was believed to be caused by an earthquake which damaged Lisbon in 1755. Surprisingly, when people checked the state of the old monastery, they discovered that the miraculous chapel was almost unscathed. This moved them very deeply.
Building the Castle
A few decades later, information about a miracle on the mountains arrived to the young prince Ferdinand, the future king of Portugal. He decided to not only rebuild the old monastery, but also a great castle, which could serve the Portuguese royal family and the people. He hired a German amateur architect, Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, to make Pena Palace.
The work took place between 1842 and 1854, and Eschwege used all of the knowledge he gained about architecture during his many travels. As a result, King Ferdinand and his wife Maria II could enjoy impressive decorations at the magnificent castle which became the heart of meetings with politicians and a base for many celebrations.
A view of Pena Palace seen through the arch of the Seteais Palace. (CC BY 2.0)
The palace was rebuilt many times. With the changes, architects created a complex of four sections, containing the restored structure of the oldest monastery with the clock tower, a yard in the front of the old chapel, with the walls of arches, the foundations and the walls with two gateways, and the drawbridge and a partial zone with a bastion in a cylindrical shape with interiors decorated in the “cathedrale” style.
The Arches Yard, chapel and clock tower. (CC BY 2.0)
A Tour of the Castle’s Elements
The current style of Pena Palace comes from the 19th century. As mentioned, it's a mixture of medieval, Renaissance, neo-Gothic, neo-Islamic, neo-Renaissance and neo-Manueline styles, with a Romantic style out and inside the castle. Each part of Pena Palace takes a visitor to different mysterious lands, to places that look like they’re from a fairy tale.
The interiors were adapted as the summer residence for the Portuguese royal family, but one of the most impressive elements of the construction is actually a clock tower. It was completed in 1843, and it's an element of the Queen's Terrace, which features a sundial and a cannon - which is fired every single day at noon.
Sundial cannon clock in the Queens's Terrace. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
One of the most famous parts of the Pena Castle is the park, which spreads over 200 hectares. It was created in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II of Portugal, who brought many outstanding plants there. Ferdinand was assisted on the garden by Baron von Kessler and Baron von Eschwege, who had more experience in this area.
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They decided to order trees from around the world. Until now, the garden includes Magnolias, Japanese Cryptomeria, Chinese Ginko, American Sequoia, Cypress, Red Cedar, and many others. There are also ferns and tree ferns from New Zeland and Australia. The collection of ferns is called “The Queen's Fern Garden (Feteira da Rainha).”
The stream that flows through the Queen's Fern Garden. (CC BY 3.0)
All the park was created as a labyrinth, full of narrow roads, secret paths, and small surprising details. It is a masterpiece of gardening and sort of a Wonderland for Portugal. In 1910, after the Republican Revolution, it was purchased by the Portuguese State and became a national monument.
A Site of Portuguese Pride
Pena Palace was visited by Hans Christian Andersen in 1866. He was completely charmed by the place he saw and he wrote: “(Sintra) where nature and art complete each other wonderfully.” Composer Richard Strauss from the famous family of musicians said: “Today is the happiest day of my life. Sintra is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. This is a true Garden of Klingsor and there, up above, is the castle of the Holy Grail.”
The Pena National Palace. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Nowadays, Pena Palace represents a classical Romanticism style of architecture. It is located in Sao Pedro de Penaferrim in Sintra. It is a national monument and brings memories about the greatness of this place from the 19th century. The palace is seen as a symbol of Portugal, so the President of the Portuguese Republic and other officials like to use it for representative purposes as well.
Top image: Pena National Palace. Source: CC BY-SA 3.0
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