A dream palace

The Pena Palace, Maria Rebelo, digital print image, 2012.

The story of the Pena Palace begins in the 16th century. King Dom Manuel was hiking in Sintra when he sighted Vasco da Gama’s sailboats arriving in Cascais from their voyage to India. To celebrate da Gama’s feat, the king built a monastery on the top of the Sintra mountain. But, over time, the building fell into disrepair and was eventually abandoned.

When Ferdinand Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the husband of Queen Dona Maria II, visited Sintra, he saw the derelict monastery surrounded by a barren landscape. Ferdinand imagined a beautiful palace and an enchanted forest. He bought the property in 1838 and restored the old monastery to use as a Summer residence. Later, he built an adjacent palace with larger rooms to accommodate state functions. The monastery is pink and the new palace yellow, so they are easy to tell apart.

Around the palace, Ferdinand created artificial lakes and an irrigation system. He studied the soil and supervised the plantation of trees brought from all over the world.

In 1853, Dona Maria died and Pedro, the couple’s elder son, inherited the Portuguese throne. Ferdinand was offered the throne of Spain, but he loved living in Pena so much that he refused the offer. The Pena Palace is the dream of a German prince who fell in love with Portugal.

Dreaming of Sintra

Sintra is a village near Lisbon where Portuguese monarchs used to seek respite from the Summer heat. It is a place like no other, with its lush vegetation and fairy-tale palaces. The National Palace (shown above) is the oldest and most historically significant. It was remodeled so many times that it looks like a visual dictionary of Gothic, Manueline and Moorish styles. The Pena Palace is the newest and most romantic. Built in the 19th century, it sits on top of a hill where, in ancient times, the Romans worshiped the moon.

On the way to Pena you can visit a 9th century Moorish castle with wonderful views to the surrounding region. From here you can get a glimpse of other palaces, Monserrate, Seteais (an 18th century palace converted into a luxury hotel), and Quinta da Regaleira. They are all worth visiting.

Staying in Sintra is a privilege. In the morning, you can see Pena while the fog hides the modern world and brings back the 19th century. And at night, you can walk to Seteais to see the moon paint the hill with silver light, waiting to be worshiped.