Near Lisbon, the beautiful town of Sintra, the “Moon Hill” is a place full of magic and mystery, where nature and man have combined in a symbiosis so perfect that UNESCO classified it as a World Heritage site. The listing necessitated the creation of a special category for Sintra — that of a “cultural landscape” — in consideration of its natural riches and the historic buildings in the town and mountains.
Sintra National Palace, also known as the Town Palace, used to be the residence of the Moorish governors of Lisbon. When King Afonso Henriques, the first king of Portugal, reconquered Lisbon in 1147, Sintra surrendered, and after that, the palace was used by the Portuguese royal family almost until the end of the Monarchy in 1910.
The current building configuration that we see nowadays owes its existence to an initiative of Dom João I, who rebuilt it, and Dom Manuel I, who enriched the building’s decorative character and added a new wing. Visiting the interior is worthwhile, as you will find out more about the history of Portugal. The decoration is remarkable, a combination of various artistic styles that reflected the respective tastes of the royals who lived here and provided a way to give different names to the various rooms. In particular, visitors are always drawn to the Sala dos Cisnes, the Sala da Pegas, the Sala dos Brasões, and the chapel.
Here you can also find a brief history of the development of the decorative tile (azulejo) in Portugal, with examples ranging from the Spanish-Moorish tiles brought by King Dom Manuel to the typical blue and white tiles of the 18th century.
Outside, the palace’s most striking and distinctive features are the two large conical chimneys of the kitchen, each measuring 33 meters high, now adopted as the symbol of Sintra.
Much appreciated by kings and nobles as a country resort and praised by writers and poets such as Lord Byron, who called it “glorious Eden”, Sintra has a wealth of cottages and manor houses. The palaces, too, are outstanding, such as the 18th-century Palace of Seteais, now converted into an elegant hotel, and the Palace of Monserrate, famous for its beautiful gardens and their exotic species.
However, the most famous palace is situated at the top of the mountain and is the finest example of 19th-century Portuguese Romanticism: Pena Palace. King Fernando II of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, the husband of the Portuguese Queen Maria II, purchased a monastery situated at the top of the hill, in ruins after the earthquake of 1755, and transformed its remains into a fairy-tale palace. The Moorish Castle nearby was also restored. The Palace of Pena and the surrounding park, with many different tree species from around the world, were designed and constructed as a single entity. The Portuguese royal family used the Palace as a summer residence till 1910. After the establishment of the republic, it was converted into a museum.