Monday, August 27, 2012

A Day Trip to Sintra

Fairy Tale Castles, Fresh Air, and Royal Gardens

One thing all Lisbon guidebooks agree on is the essential need to make a side trip to the hilltown of Sintra. 

And it is so easy. Just take the subway to the Restauradores Plaza Metro station. From there walk a few yards to Lisbon's handsome Rossio train station (the one with the doors that look like big horseshoes.). From Rossio there are Sintra bound trains approximately every 30 minutes. The train fare this summer was 2.10 E each way. Sintra is the end of the line, so you can't mess it up.

Rossio Station in Lisbon

Upon arrival at Sintra Station just follow the signs for an easy walk to Sintra's "historico" district. You can't miss the giant conical chimney's of the Sintra's National Palace. Just walk toward the palace and then look for the signs that lead to Sintra's Information Center. Here, you can stock up on maps and ask the staff questions about transportation to the Pena Palace. 

Temporary Art - Walking to the Historic District

Sintra's Pena Palace resides at the top of a mountain (on a clear day you can see Pena Palace from Lisbon). Unless you are a fitness freak it is not walkable, so opt for a 5 E all day bus pass and marvel that the driver can get a big bus through tight single lane roads with many hairpin turns (one he has to stop and back up to make). The bus stops at the main Palace, the Castle of the Moors, the Palace Garden / Chalet of Countess Edla (King Ferdinand II's second wife.) The entry fees vary by what you want to see and if you want the audio guides etc. 

The Pena Palace itself is really an assemblage of parts. King Ferdinand II began by saving an abandoned 1493 era monastery. After 258 years of use it suffered from Lisbon's earthquake of 1755 and a lightning strike. 

He brought in Baron Wilhelm Ludvig von Eschwege a mining engineer and amateur architect (when combined those are two scary word's) to design a new wing and integrate it with the old monastery. The mining engineer part was a good choice as the whole place clings to rock outcroppings. 

But Ludvig was thinking "Bavarian" castle and Ferdinand was thinking "Moorish" palace. So after 7 years of construction the King stopped Ludvig and reworked the design to add Medieval and Islamic decoration and symbolism to the new structure. The total construction was 14 years. The Castle we see today was completed in 1854. So this was a castle built during relatively modern times. As such it was built with central heating, modern plumbing, and a telephone system. 

It was not built for safety from enemies, it was built as an elegant escape from hot Lisbon summers, to nurture the perception of royal power and impress visiting royalty.

What it became was an icon of the period when Portugal was falling out of love with its monarchy, mostly bankrupt, and releasing its conquered lands around the world.

The Approach Path to Pena Palace

The Gates to The Palace

The Lower Forecourt

A Big Wicked Looking Triton And A Lion
Guard Entry's

Happy Themes Portrayed in Tile

View of The Moors Castle Below

Part of the Hundreds of Acres of Palace Grounds 

After completion, the palace was owned by the monarchy for just 35 years. It was purchased by the Portuguese state in 1889. The last King to use the castle was King Carlos before he and his son were assassinated in Lisbon in 1908. King Carlos' surviving son became Portugal's last king.

The palace features a wonderful restaurant with a great view, lovely music, and delicious food in a delightful setting. Alas photography is prohibited in the Palace itself. So all I could take where outdoor shots.

This is one of Portugal's designated "7 wonders" and a Unesco World Heritage site. A full day spent in Sintra and the Pena Palace and gardens is a day well spent indeed.

Roadboy's Travels © 2012

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