National Palace of Sintra Review – Glimpse Portugal History in its Story-telling Ceilings Plus

As you approach the National Palace in Sintra you see the iconic twin chimneys of the palace kitchen


As you first arrive in town, The National Palace of Sintra and its iconic giant twin kitchen chimneys come into view, forever branding Sintra as a charming place in your memory banks. 


The interesting window trim detailing, Manueline in style, will be echoed in parts inside the palace


How interesting to later learn from our tour guide, Carla Ventura of Parques de Sintra, that the grand scale of the palace kitchen’s two conical chimneys are surmised by some to be signs of the great insecurity suffered by King João I who commissioned them.  The thinking goes that as an illegitimate son of the prior king, João perhaps built BIG to compensate for a sense of inferiority. 


A view of looking up into the enormous kitchen chimneys


That account would sure seem plausible to any American tourist who has similarly seen the spawn of McMansions back home that seem to be inspired by that same gotta-prove-I’m-somebody place in the human soul. 


Zeus? Thor? Neptune? Amazing masks and figures that spark memories of great mythologies are found in spots throughout


It’s not just those iconic kitchen towers, the walls, the halls, the tiles and more—and especially the ceilings—tell a piece of Portuguese history.


You see this ornate and beautiful table soon after you enter the palace tour


That story begins with the Moors who liked Sintra as a surveillance point on the water and who were the builders of the original structure, an advanced irrigation system, and more. 


Moorish tile detail


Moorish tiles with fountain detail


In 1147 the Moors were evicted from power and this building, but most stayed on in the town, giving Sintra spots of a Moorish feel to this day.  


This anteroom was actually outside the original palace walls, as you can see here


Moorish styles were an amalgam of North African and Iberian Islamic convert influences. 


You see geometric designs in tiles echoed in the furniture made much later


You can see these at this palace and elsewhere, for example, in ceramic tiles that are more geometric and not figurative.


Moorish tiles trim doors and windows


The building that  stands on the site today was built from the 14th century on. The original Moorish building, where the Moorish governors lived until 1147, was gradually replaced from the 14th century on: in the 14th century the highest (and oldest) part of the current building was ordered by King Dinis; in the 15th century the second phase of construction was ordered by King João I and finally in the 16th century Manuel I built the last part of the building.


A view of the garden from the upper floor of the palace


From the palace windows you see other castles and historic buildings that make for a romantic vista


This ceiling is adorned with galley ships, reminding that Portugal's kings amassed great wealth from their kingdom's maritime adventures and explorations


On the tour you see changes in tiles, furniture and other décor, and how the floor plan was variously used by successive kings in accordance with their needs and desires of the time.


Throughout the palace you see beautiful tiles and ornately detailed furniture


How interesting that the palace chapel kept much of the original Moorish designs. The kings shared these chapels with the population, and wanted to welcome all the people from all traditions


As you enter each room of the palace there are two initial things to especially note. 


The Swan Room has this ornate ceiling motif. It was the large reception hall for commoners and nobles alike


First, always look up to the ceiling where you will often see a painted motif for which the room is named. 


The magpies in this room were said to be symbols of the gossips in the court of João I



Swans, magpies, ships, mermaids, doves, and emblems of royal arms—each of these tell a story. 


The mermaids in this chamber remind of the enormous role maritime adventures and discoveries played in building the wealth of the Portuguese dynasties


Note too that the rooms seem to be getting smaller and smaller from the large Swan Room where every one of all ranks was received, to the ever smaller more intimate chambers reserved for the selector and selector few, until you get to the intimate space of the royal bed chambers.   


Prison room of King Alfonso VI, with the worn floor that legend says shows his pacing, but perhaps is just appropriate to the tiles' age


How creepy to think that the royals imprisoned their rivals in their home.   You get to see the prison room of King Alfonso VI and note the worn tiled floors,  which popular notions say he wore down with pacing but our tour guide pointed out are similarly worn in other tiles of that age.


The tilework here depicts hunting the royal deer, a right restricted to the King. This ceiling shows the coats of arms in the Blazons Hall


Today’s political leaders or would-bes may use Twitter to put out their party line and keep the faithful in line, but this palace’s Blazons Hall shows how it was done back in that day.  You’ll see many coats of arms for the heralds of the times commissioned by King Manuel I with an accompanying inscription “For they were won through efforts and loyal services and so they should be kept”.   


Sintra has a month long music festival, including many performances at this palace


More than two million people come to visit this and other Sintra monuments each year


More than two million people visit this palace and other Sintra monuments each year.  Information on hours and more, including discounted tickets, can be found online at the Parques de Sintra website.

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