Pena Palace is a 19th century mansion built high in the Sintra Mountains. It commands a dominating position and can be seen for many miles. It’s widely celebrated as one of the greatest expressions of romantic architecture in the world. Its also a site that is greatly admired within Portugal, as of today Pena is a national monument, a UNSECO World Heritage Site and is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. So its little surprise that when my guide book told me to go there, I instantly wanted to visit; going so far as to dictate the remainder of my family’s trip entirely so we could visit this one place.
And, at least from a distance, it looked like Pena would live up to its reputation. From the Castle of the Moors we could quite clearly see the towering aspect of Pena Palace, looming up in the distance. It really is a startling place, consisting of a mesh of different architectural styles and all of its is decorated in wonderful bright colours.
However as we walked around the palace, I realised the colours really are absurdly bright and the style seems almost silly. Its like a building pulled out of Alice in Wonderland, or the mind of Sarah Winchester.
The palace itself was built in 1838 after the King Consort Ferdinand II acquired huge tracks of the Sintra Mountains. Before, the hill had only been occupied by an old monastery, which was destoryed in the Great Earthquake of 1755 (you really can’t escape that date here). Enchanted by its ruins, Ferdinand decided to get rid of the ruins and build his summer palace on the hilltop. During the construction process, Ferdinard and his wife, Queen Maria, intervened on several matters concerning the palace’s look. This is prehaps why it ended up being such a unique combination of Gothic, Islamic and Renascence art. The palace itself was finally complete in 1854, one year following the death of Queen Maria, however Ferdianrd was able to use it for over 30 years.
After Ferdinand’s death in 1885, the castle passed to his second wife, Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla, an American actress and singer. Elisa though soon sold Pena back to the Portuguese Royal Family who used it up until the Portuguese Revolution in 1910. The last Queen consort of Portugal, Amelie of Orleans, who’d survived the assassination which killed both her husband and eldest son, spent her last night as Queen in Pentra Palace before fleeing into exile.
Today the palace is a massive tourist attraction and is occasionally used for state occasions by the Portuguese president. Personally I feel the palace is an acquired taste, while some may see it as zany and an architectural marvel of the 19th century, I saw only dirty paint, ridiculously extravagance and ugly design choices. However the history of the castle is interesting and the interior is actually quite nice, particularly around the more Islamic styled areas. But, truthfully, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed leaving Pena.
Fortunately I really loved the Castle of the Moors and Pena is also surrounded by these wonderful Victorian pleasure gardens which were a joy to explore.
I hope you enjoyed this sixth part of my trip to Portugal. If you did enjoy it feel free to write in the comments, or leave like and thanks for reading.