Sintra National Palace
The Sintra National Palace (Portuguese: Palácio Nacional de Sintra), also called Town Palace (Palácio da Vila Vila=Town) is located in the town of Sintra, in Portugal near Lisbon.
It is the best preserved mediaeval 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 part of the Cultural landscape of Sintra, designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The history of the Sintra Palace goes back to the times of Islamic domination, when Sintra had two different castles. One of them, located on top of a hill overlooking Sintra is the so-called Castle of the Moors (Castelo dos Mouros), which is now a romantic ruin. The other, located downhill, was the residence of the Moorish rulers of the region. It first historical reference appeared in the 10th century by the Arab geographer Al-Bacr. In the 12th century, when the village was conquered by King Afonso Henriques, the King took the residence in his possession. The mixture of Gothic, Manueline and Moorish styles in the present palace is, however, mainly the result of building campaigns in the 15th and early 16th centuries.
Nothing built during Moorish rule or during the reign of the first Portuguese kings survives. The earliest surviving part of the palace is the Royal Chapel, possibly built during the reign of King Dinis I in the early 14th century. Much of the palace dates from the times of King John I, who sponsored a major building campaign starting around 1415.
Most buildings around the central courtyard – called the Ala Joanina (John’s Wing) – date from this campaign, including the main building of the façade with the entrance arches and the mullioned windows in Manueline and Moorish styles (called ajimezes), the conical chimneys of the kitchen that dominate the skyline of the city, and many rooms including:
- The Swann’s Room (Sala dos Cisnes) in Manueline style, named so because of the swans painted on the ceiling.
- Pegas’ Room (Sala das Pegas); the magpies (pegas) painted on the ceiling and the frieze hold the emblem por bem (for honour) in their beaks. This relates to the 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 are were women at the court.
- Arab Room (Sala dos Árabes)
John I’s son, King Duarte I, was very fond of the Palace and stayed long periods here. He left a written description of the Palace that is very valuable in understanding the development and use of the building, and confirms that much of the palace built by his father has not changed much since its construction. Another sign of the preference for this Palace is that Duarte’s successor King Afonso V was born (1432) and died (1481) in the Palace. Afonso V’s successor, King John II, was acclaimed King of Portugal in the Palace of Sintra.
The other major building campaign that defined the structure and decoration of the Palace was sponsored by King Manuel I between 1497 and 1530, using the wealth engendered by the exploratory expeditions in this Age of Discoveries. The reign of this King saw the development of a transitional Gothic-Renaissance art style, named Manueline, as well as a kind of revival of Islamic artistic influence (Mudéjar) reflected in the choice of polychromed ceramic tiles (azulejos) as a preferred decorative art form.
King Manuel ordered the construction of the so-called Ala Manuelina (Manuel’s Wing), to the right of the main façade, decorated with typical manueline windows. He also built the Coats-of-Arms Room (Sala dos Brasões) (1515–1518), with a magnificent wooden coffered domed ceiling decorated with 72 coats-of-arms of the King and the main Portuguese noble families. The coat-of-arms of the Távora family was however removed after their conspiracy against king Joseph I.
King Manuel also redecorated most rooms of the Palace with polychromed tiles specially made for him in Seville. These multicoloured tile panels bear Islamic motifs and lend an Arab feeling to many of the rooms inside.
In the following centuries the Palace continued to be inhabited by Kings from time to time, gaining new decoration in the form of paintings, tile panels and furniture. A sad story associated with the Palace is that of the mentally unstable King Afonso VI, who was deposed by his brother Pedro II and forced to live without leaving the Palace from 1676 until his death in 1683.
The ensemble suffered damage after the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake but was restored in the “old fashion”, according to contemporary accounts. The biggest lost to the great earthquake was the tower over the Arab Room, which collapsed. At the end of the 18th century, Queen Maria I redecorated and redivided the rooms of the Ala Manuelina.
During the 19th century, Sintra became again a favourite spot for the Kings and the Palace of Sintra was frequently inhabited. Queen Amélia, in particular, was very fond of the Palace and made several drawings of it. With the foundation of the Republic, in 1910, the Palace became a National Monument. In the 1940s, it was restored by architect Raul Lino, who tried to return the Palace to its former splendour by adding old furniture from other palaces and restoring the tile panels. It has been an important historical tourist attraction ever since.
The landmark of Sintra is the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), with its huge, conic, white twin chimneys, which rise above the large palace kitchen, and are visible from quite a distance. It is one of the most important examples of regal architecture in Portugal and for that reason is classified as a National Monument. The palace was continuously inhabited as a royal summer residence from the 14th to the 20th c. It is a conglomerate of different architectural styles. Elaborate wood carved ceilings, which arch over the rooms and marvellous wall decoration with ceramic tiles from the 15th/16th centuries, the Azulejos, bear witness to the Arabic influence. The tiles were manufactured in Seville and it is the oldest and most extensive collection on the Iberian Peninsula.