High on top of the town of Sintra is the fairy tale castle of Palacio Nacional da Pena (The Feather Palace). The UNESCO site is another European example of 18th century dream castles in the sky based on medieval fairly tales and romantic operas.
The palace foundation was constructed in the 1400’s as first a chapel and then a 16th century Monastery. In the 18th century, it was significantly damaged by lightning and the great earthquake of 1755. King Ferdinand II purchased the property and surrounding grounds including the Moorish Castle in 1838 after surveying the stunning views. Building commenced on the fairy tale castle which would surround the monastery and become the summer palace for the Portuguese royal family.
So what was Ferdinand’s inspiration? Ferdinand was from Austria and the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He was considered a very learned man growing up in lands of Slovakia, the court of Austria and Germany with family relations in the royal houses of Belgium, Mexico and the UK. He married into the Portuguese royal family as King Consort to Queen Maria II and then was named King in 1837 after his first son was born. The construction took place between 1842–1854, although it was almost completed in 1847. They commissioned a German architect, Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, to construct the castle in many styles: Moorish, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance and Baroque. Eschwege likely had traveled the Rhine Valley and saw many of the medieval castles rebuilt in the Romantic Style during this time.
The King and Queen did instruct many of the interior designs which included Rosicrucian crosses & alchemical symbols including the ornate window in the main facade which was inspired by the chapter house window of the Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar which was a Knights Templar stronghold in the 12th century. Ferdinand was rumored to be a grand master and there seems to be other Mason ceremony rumors in the town of Sintra including Quinta da Regaliera.
After the queen passed after child-birth, Ferdinand re-married to an opera singer Elise and continued to host many creative guests as King Regent including Richard Strauss. Ferdinand is related to Ludwig II of Neuschwanstein Castle fame, so perhaps it was in the gene pool to build such over the top Romantic castles. I read on several sights that Ferdinand was inspired by Neuschwanstein but Pena Palace was finished in 1847, 12 years before King Ludwig II completed his first sketch of Neuschwanstein and a few years more before construction.
The palace changed hands a few more times, but was acquired by the Portuguese State after the 1910 Portuguese revolution and turned into a museum. Queen Amelia (The last Portuguese royal) spent her last night at this palace before her exile to Brazil.
Approaching the castle, you are immediately struck by the vivid colors on all the turrets and differentiation of all the terraces. From the terraces you can view the clock tower and the sundial which was setup to trigger a cannon to fire at noon daily.
The walk around the terraces is the highlight of this Palace. From the walkways, you will have beautiful views of the valley below and the Moorish Castle. You will also be able to see into some of the turrets to see how the castle is perched on the rocky outcrop. Be sure to look closely at the elaborate architecture to see animals and symbols carved in the entryways.
The most impressive facade and one creature you can’t miss is the entrance to the Queen’s terrace with the newt carved above the arch. The newt symbolizes the allegory of creation of the world
Inside the Palace, you will see how the palace was built around the original convent with the central cloister. The bedrooms and Royal dining room are all extremely elaborate. The Queen’s room was especially magnificent with stamped plaster that was all handpainted in an elaborate pattern in the stamped areas. There is also a stunning Manueline-Renaissance chapel part of the original 14th century structures that have been built up with elaborate decorations.
- Pena National Palace Website: Click here
- The palace is closed on Mondays.
- Expect to spend 1.5-2 hours visiting all of the state rooms and the terraces with a further 1 hour to wander the forest trails.
Last Views of Pena Palace from the Moorish Castle