The National Palace in Sintra


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Although the building’s façade that you will see is subdued, modest and quite monotonous, do not be fooled, because the interior of this palace will delight you with splendour, wealth and diversity.

The National Palace in Sintra is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also a place whose rich architecture leads you through hundreds of years of Portuguese history. As soon as during the reign of the Moors, when the original body of the building was built, the palace served an important function. It was then called Chão da Oliva and served as the residence of the rulers. In 1147, just after Afonso Henriques recaptured Lisbon, it became the most popular residence among the kings and queens of Portugal. Are you wondering why it was Sintra, and not the residence in Lisbon, that won the rulers’ hearts? Well, Sintra, was located near the capital, offered a mild microclimate and unique hill landscapes, and was a perfect hunting ground.

Each of the kings staying there had an influence on the later appearance of the residence. However, some of the most important interventions which gave it its today’s appearance,

 took place during the reign of King John I. It was thanks to him that the main patio and kitchen with characteristic chimneys were included in the complex. Refurbishments commissioned by Manuel I were also important for the later fate of the palace. He added the entire eastern wing and a hall decorated with coats of arms. It was also thanks to him that more decorations appeared in the building. It wasn’t until the earthquake in 1755, during which the complex was seriously damaged, that it was given the form that we know today.

Interesting historical facts

The National Palace in Sintra is also associated with many key events in the history of Portugal. It was there that in 1413 King John I hosted the spies who, by providing the ruler with information about the port of Ceuta, allowed the beginning of Portuguese colonial expansion in North Africa. The same palace, or more precisely one of its rooms, was also a prison for Alfonso VI. He was locked up there by his brother, who accused him of being unfit to rule.

The palace was declared a National Monument in 1910, but it wasn’t until 1930s that it opened its doors to visitors. Since then, it has been offering a unique presentation of the Portuguese history to the audience.

Inside the National Palace in Sintra

The facade of the building, apart from a few lace arches in the windows, does not stand out as special. What clearly draws your attention from the outside, however, are two characteristic, 33-meter-high, conical chimneys, which are not only the hallmark of the palace, but also a symbol of the whole of Sintra. The real magic of this place, however, is hidden inside.

The long and turbulent history of the building is reflected, among others, in an unusual mix of architectural styles, which architecture fans will notice at first glance. As various rulers constantly contributed to shaping the building, today it presents both the remains of Arabic art and Manueline craftsmanship, and Gothic forms are intertwined with elements of the Mudejar style.

The palace’s heart is a central patio, where you will find a small grotto adorned with the scenes depicting the creation of the world. What serves as an indispensable element that not only adds aesthetic value to the place, but also tells the story of the country are azulejos. The walls of the palace are decorated with both single tiles and entire compositions depicting genre scenes.

The paintings which decorate each room are very detailed, and their expressive power is enhanced by intense colors and inserts made of pure gold. Among the rooms you will discover, among others, the Swan Room, where receptions and banquets were held, and the Room of the Coat of Amrs, where depictions of the coats of arms of noble families adorn the beautiful dome crowning the room. Of course, you can also visit the chapel of the Holy Spirit, decorated with beautiful mosaics. Don’t miss the palace kitchen, where you will see the said chimneys and hearths up close.  Thanks to them it was possible to organize lavish banquets in the palace.

INTERESTING FACT: An interesting story is hidden in the Magpie Room which is adorned with representations of these birds. It was in this chamber that the most eminent international guests were received. Some say that the magpies symbolize the escort ladies who followed King John I.

Practical information

It’s best to buy tickets to the Sintra National Palace in advance. You will then avoid standing in a long queue and avoid the risk that all tickets have been sold out, which happens very often in the case of this monument.

The Sintra National Palace on a map

Other interesting places to visit in Portugal

Klaudia Komadowska
Klaudia Komadowska
It started with a few Spanish words and ended with an boundless love for the Spanish-speaking world. Just like that. The more I knew and discovered, the more happiness it brought me. And it still does. A vivid imagination and an artistic soul eventually allowed me to believe that there's a lot of Latin blood flowing within me.

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