Looking down from its majestic perch in the Sintra Mountains, high above the Portuguese Riviera sits a brightly colored castle known as Pena Palace. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal and inspires artists, creatives and tourists just as much today as it has for centuries.
From Humble Beginnings to Dazzling Summer House
The truly captivating Pena Palace started out from much more humble beginnings. The site was once a monastery and before that a medieval chapel dedicated to The Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Pena. The small monastery was built during the reign of King Manuel I (1495-1521) and housed monks of the Order of Saint Jerome.
In the 18th century an earthquake rocked Lisbon and the surrounding area, including the land on which the monastery was built. Miraculously, although the monastery suffered grave damage and was reduced to rubble, the chapel was relatively untouched. This seemingly exacting act of God fascinated young Prince Ferdinand at the time.
In 1838 King Ferdinand II decided this would make the safest and most reasonable site on which to erect a summer residence for the royals. He set out to acquire the monastery and surrounding estates for that very purpose and commissioned a quite ornate castle built in the Romantic style.
A Treasure Box of Architectural Beauty
The Palace is a stunning example of a diverse mix of architecture. It took the architect, Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, 12 years to complete the commission. The details of the castle’s decoration and symbolism were very important to the King and Queen and they are said to have pored over each and every detail.
The ultimate design incorporates Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance styles throughout the exterior and interior. Some examples of these diverse architectural styles are seen in the vault arches and ornate windows. The Palace has a purple wing that’s flanked by a red clock tower. Even the bright color palette of the castle is unique.
Different members of the Royal Family of Portugal used the opulent residence until the Republican Revolution of 1910. At that time the Palace was transformed into a museum and classified as a national monument.
An Enchanted Forest
Today the fairytale castle is a top tourist attraction for those visiting Lisbon. Looking like a page out of a child’s coloring book the castle beckons from its perch and is definitely a must-see destination for visitors to Portugal.
Surrounding this remarkable example of, well, all kinds of architecture, is Pena Park, once the Palace Gardens. Spreading out for nearly a square mile (200 hectares) the park grounds surround the Palace. This is no ordinary park, however. The park was also created by the exotically-inclined King Ferdinand and Queen Maria and features trees and plants from all over the world, including:
- American Sequoyah
- Gingko from China
- Cryptomeria from Japan
- Australian Ferns, and
- African Succulents
Woven throughout all of this amazing natural beauty is a labyrinth of walking trails, secret paths, lakes, ponds and pavilions. The park adds to the fanciful aesthetic and you will absolutely imagine yourself in the midst of a wondrous fairytale.
A guided tour in Pena Place is included in our itinerary Heart of Portugal.