Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sintra, Portugal: The National Palace of Sintra

Sintra for the locals is popularly known as a quick getaway from the rising temperatures of Lisbon on a blistering summer day. No wonder it is the summer residence of Portugal’s royalty, the House of Braganca. Kings and Queens lived in Sintra up until 1910 when the Portuguese revolution took place extraditing the royal dynasty out of the country.

The day started cold and foggy. Outside the balcony of my hotel room I can see the ruins of Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle) on top of the mountain, sitting pensively, and covered in white sheath. There was light rain outside too so I dismissed the thought of going up the mountains for the day.

The National Palace of Sintra from the main square of the village (taken on a different sunny day). The building is not very impressive outside, but inside yes! Next foto is the pretty chapel of the palace, Chapel Tribune.

I’m visiting the two palaces nearby for my day’s itinerary, the National Palace of Sintra which is just a stone’s throw away from my hotel, and the Quinta de Regaleira, which is a 10-minute walk from the center of Sintra. After which I’ll spend the rest of the day in this charismatic village, and hopefully the next day would be better weather so I can go up the mountains and enjoy the two other glorious castles.

When arriving in Sintra and taking the 10-minute winding walk along the lush valley (with interesting sculptures placed on the roadside) from the train station to the historical center, you could see the National Palace standing out the horizon with its two white bottle-shaped chimneys distinctively dominating the mountain village skyline. The chimneys are quite a design, they house the kitchen of the palace, and inside the hollowed room you could hear your voice vibrate and echo through due to the concave ceiling.

Anywho, it looks like the entrance to the National Palace of Sintra is free. The lady behind the desk in the tourist office quickly checked me out and then gave me a ticket and told me – it’s free. I wonder if she randomly checks out tourists and decide who she gives free tickets?

View from the palace to the village. The weather wasn't great at all but the mist gave the already romantic location a very dreamy (and lazy) setting. A simple Manueline style window in the middle foto. On the right is the palace's Central Patio and Bath Grotto.

Another room I like is the Magpies Room (Stag Room). History said that the king kissed one of the queen's ladies-in-waiting and gossip throttled after that. Obviously the king was not pleased. To put the gossip to rest, he created this room with Magpies on the ceiling to remind the women of their gossipping. Magpies are noisy! 

This is King Sebatiao's Room that I really liked and the decorative ceramic tiles of relief vine leaves on its walls in blue and green color scheme.

The beautiful Coat of Arms Room, a gold domed room with azulejos on its walls, polychromed ceramic tin-glazed tiles and the striking tiled walls in Moorish Mudejar fashion.  

Now for some tidbits of history, but promising that I will not drown you readers with details of information as you can find them all online anyway. The first resident of this palace was King Dinis in the 13th century, then King Joao, King Duarte, King Manuel I who did major renovations and additions, and in the 19th century, King Carlos I and Queen Amelia as the last occupants before Portugal became a republic.

The palace is quite unique as it shows different architectural styles, Gothic Renaissance, Moorish Mudejar and Manueline. I find the Moorish and Manueline styles interesting mainly because of its geometrical and intricate patterns. I am also partial to the blue and green color scheme when mixed. Fact is, I’m thinking of making a huge painting at home for the living room (a project I have been putting off for years) in bright blue and green hues.

The palace's kitchen was quite remarkable, it was different than most noble kitchens I have seen. Middle foto is the Swan Room (the ceiling have swan paintings), the biggest room of the palace. And last foto is a cute little nook I discovered. I can sit in here and read a book over a cup of tea during a rainy afternoon.

I think my favorite rooms are, firstly, King Sebatiao’s bedchamber with the relief ceramic tile patterns of climbing vines on the walls. Then there’s the Magpies Room with its sturdy period dining set, think they are renaissance or could be tudor. The ambience of this room is really nice, I can see myself spending my days here if I am a resident of this palace. Lastly but not the least, the Coat of Arms Room that has a dramatic dome ceiling showing the Portuguese coat-of-arms surmounted by a winged dragon at the peak of the eight-sided vault, flanked in each segment by King Manuel I’s children and, at the lower level, by the arms of seventy-two families from the Portuguese nobility. This room is amazing.

It’s said that the National Palace of Sintra is the best preserved palace or castle in Portugal. I am quite glad to have visited the palace. She doesn’t look very impressive from the outside, but from the inside, she definitely is.

The big plus is it was OK to take fotos inside!

Travel Period: November 2009
Destination: Sintra (Lisboa), Portugal

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