Sintra’s Park and Palace of Pena – Romanticism Inspired

Many might have a subliminal reminder of the Disney logo "Cinderella Palace"-- and there is a reason for that

 

Looking up at its yellow, blue and red towers, almost every American will either be thinking Disney or getting a subliminal message to when they first glimpse Sintra’s Palace of Pena.  It’s not actually THE castle that Disney’s Cinderella Castle is modeled after.  But THAT castle, Neuschwanstein Castle, is said to be inspired by this Palace of Pena, so you aren’t totally imagining the similarity.

 

Some people mistakenly think that it is called "pena" castle because of some imagined "pain" in its history. ("Pain" is one definition of pena.) "Pena" or "Penha" is also a word for "rock", and you see many rocks around the castle and in the vast parkgrounds surrounding it-- the true origin of its name

 

King-Consort Don Fernando II is called “the artist-king”. 

 

Bust of King-Consort Don Ferdinand II, the "artist-king" who resurrected the monastery on this site and built the castle and surrounding park in the Romantic tradition

 

Before it was restored to its mid-nineteenth century form, the castle colors had faded entirely to gray

 

He was a Romantic and took upon converting an abandoned monastery in Sintra as the Royal residence fueled with love of nature, Moorish and medieval antiquity, with neo-Manueline and neo-Renaissance elements thrown in. 

 

The park surrounding the castle was barren when King-Consort Fernando II started the restoration of the monastery on that site and began constructing what is today this UNESCO World Heritage monument

 

The barren landscape was converted into a plush park of 85 hectares size. 

 

The palace is now repainted every few years to maintain the brilliant colors that delineate different sections--no small job!

 

It was surprising to learn from our tour guide, Carla Ventura of Parques de Sintra, that this Palace of Pena is the most popular attraction in the area, given nearby competitors of the National Palace, the Moorish Castle (also renovated by this King) and Monserrate. 

 

There is a free shuttle up the peak to the castle-- or you could walk, but it will take a while

 

That said, although there were many visitors there at the same time as our visit, we never felt crowded or had an obstructed view.

 

The microclimate surrounding the castle brings a mid-afternoon fog in

 

The midafternoon fog moved in very quickly and unexpectedly, making the lush landscape around the castle invisible

 

You do feel the personality of this bold Romantic King and how the Pena Palace was a continuing work-in-progress for his artistic imagination and Romantic reverence for nature and times gone by. 

 

Alabaster carvings in the castle's chapel date back to the monks of the order of St Jerome

 

Fernando II, who commissioned the building of the castle as an expansion of the abandoned monastery there, was very much a romanticist. A core tenet of the Romanticist style was to provoke feelings in everything. That is an explanation for the angry faced sculptures that adorn the building and the entrance here for fellow artists and other friends

 

It was also interesting to hear from our tour guide that although Don Fernando II’s marriage to Queen Dona Maria II was of the arranged sort, she was actually quite keen on him, as he on her. 

 

The dining room for the royal family

 

Though it’s Disneyesque and grand, you could also accurately think of the Palace as a little love nest.

 

Exquisite furniture and decor is found throughout the castle's residence areas, such as this elaborate headboard

 

The royal bathroom

 

Americans might be interested to know that Don Fernando II’s second wife, a much younger actress-singer whom he was passionately joined with after he became a widower, was Boston-raised. 

 

The castle has Manueline style gargoyles situated next to Moorhish style tiles that were brought in from other places

 

There are two of these intriguing standing chandeliers in the Great Hall

 

Countess of Edla, as she was called, shared interests in botany and nature, art and architecture with the King, and after his death became the owner of this Palace and the Moorish Castle that he had also renovated.

 

The King also had many collections that you can see at the castle, including this one of many beautiful stained glass windows

 

The furniture you see in the Great Hall is the actual furniture and decor in the palace at the time of the King

 

If your time budgets are ample, the vast gardens alone seem worth a day or two of visiting.  They have more than 500 species of trees, horseback tours, hiking trails and more. 

 

The Great Hall was an area guests could mingle in

 

Ferdinand II's "romantic" style favored a mix of Moorish tiles with Manueline furniture

 

For information on visiting hours and more see the Parques de Sintra website pages on the Park and Palace of Pena.

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