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The Fairytale Palace

Updated: 21 hours ago

Located less than an hour away from Lisbon is the best example of Portuguese romanticism. The incredible architectural marvel that can be seen today at the top of the Sintra Mountains and its equally impressive gardens were built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. A true fairytale palace where you really can feel the magic of the enchanted mountain in every corner and nook.

Mosteiro da Pena, Palacio da Pena

The Manueline Monastery

This monastery was founded on the primitive Chapel of Our Lady of Penha, built around 1372 by Henry Manuel de Vilhena, Count of Seia and Sintra and uncle of King Ferdinand I, as a result of the local discovery of a reputed miraculous image of that invocation by a shepherdess in the 12th century.

The Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena da Serra de Sintra is part of the canonical institution of the monastic Order of St Jerome, located at the top of the Mountain of Sintra and functionally existing between c. 1511 and 1834.

It was a small chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena. At the end of the 15th century, King Manuel I of Portugal ordered the construction of a monastery on top of the hill, which would become a place of sacred meditation, housing about 18 monks.

The story goes that King Manuel I, who was very fond of the place, was hunting a white deer in the mountain's coutada on 10 November 1503 when he saw and recognised the arrival in Cascais of the fleet of nine ships commanded by Vasco da Gama, which he had sent to India the previous year.

Consequently, in gratitude to Our Lady of Pena, the King ordered the construction and enrichment of a definitive monastery on the same site, cutting down and blasting the original Penha on an 80-foot plain of earthworks, then erecting an ephemeral wooden structure in 1503 and then perennialised in stonework and vaulted since 1511.

In the history of its artistic heritage, the alabaster altarpiece by Nicolau de Chanterene and offered by King João III (on the occasion of the birth of Prince Manuel of Portugal), the patial tiling ordered by King Philip II in 1619 (during his royal visit to Portugal) and the requalification works motivated by the fall of lightning in 1743 and carried out by the votive intervention of King João V are particularly noteworthy.

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 caused the monastery to collapse. However, the chapel's alabaster and black marble works miraculously survived.
Retrato do rei D. Fernando II
D. Fernando II

The monastery lay in ruins for some decades, and it was King Ferdinand II who restored the building with the aim of constructing a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. To this end, he added medieval and Islamic elements to the castle.

In this way, the palace was built in an extremely eclectic style, mixing neo-Gothic, neo-manueline, neo-Islamic and neo-Renaissance elements. After the death of Queen Maria II, his first wife, Ferdinand II married the Countess d' Edla about 7 years later, who became responsible for the design of the palace's interior.

Palacio da Pena

The Construction of the Pena

Idealizado por um príncipe originário da Europa Central que se tornou rei-consorte de Portugal sob o nome de D. Fernando II.

Fernando de Saxe-Coburgo e Gotha chega a Lisboa a 8 de Abril de 1836 para casamento com a rainha portuguesa D. Maria II que reinava em Portugal por vontade do seu pai D. Pedro IV de Portugal e primeiro imperador do Brasil.

The palace consists of two wings: the former Manueline convent of the Order of St Jerome and the wing built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. Construction began in 1839.

The transformation of a former monastery into an imposing castle, where King Ferdinand II was strongly influenced by German romanticism, was completed in the mid-1860s. However, several interior decoration campaigns were subsequently carried out.

Fairytale Palace

It can be said that King Fernando lived in his "dear Pena", as he usually called the Palace, a true fairy tale, as he had two happy marriages, something rare in royal houses. Ferdinand was a man extremely in love with both Maria and the Countess.

D. Maria, whose premature death left him deeply shaken to the point where he temporarily became disinterested in the work going on at the Palace of Pena. This feeling was described in letters, one of them to his cousin, Queen Victoria of England.

"The breakdown of intense affections like these leaves a horrible void and a pain that is difficult to heal." in Os Criadores da Pena

D. Ferdinand met Elise Hensler, about twenty years younger than him, on a theatre day and gradually they began to live together until marriage took place, despite the displeasure of some European courts linked to Ferdinand by family ties. In Portugal, the marriage was also a national scandal, and the monarch was severely criticised by his daughter-in-law, Queen Maria Pia de Saboia, to which he replied:

"(...) a person really has the right to think through his own heart and not to care about silly judgements that in our century should no longer exist." in Os Criadores da Pena
Sintra, Pena Palace and Chalet
Chalet of Countess d'Edla

And so Elise became Countess d'Edla and it was she who, from 1860 onwards, also began to direct much of the work on the gardens of the Park of Pena, importing specimen trees from the United States.

In the will of King Ferdinand we can read an undeniable declaration of love and above all a tribute to the role that the Countess had played in the construction of the Park of Pena, asking his "dear wife to conserve" the plantations already made in the park that she had made "with such intelligence and good taste". And Elise was able to honour D. Fernando's last will and was the true guardian of Pena.

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