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The Royal Convent of Mafra

Updated: 21 hours ago

It consists of a royal palace, basilica, convent, garden and tapada. Construction began in 1717 and the basilica was consecrated in 1730. It has important collections of Italian sculpture, Italian and Portuguese paintings, vestments, as well as an imposing library, two carillons, six historic organs and an 18th century infirmary. It has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2019.

It is the most important monument of the Portuguese Baroque. The former royal estate covers more than 1,200 hectares and the palace has an area of around 38,000 m2, making it one of the largest in Europe.

Real Convento de Mafra

The Magnanimous

Rei D.JoãoV - Palácio de Mafra

João V (Lisbon, 22 October 1689 - Lisbon, 31 July 1750), nicknamed The Magnanimous, was King of Portugal and the Algarves from 1706 until his death. In 1709, as King of Portugal, João V married Maria Ana of Austria, daughter of Emperor Leopold I of Austria. The couple had six children, one of whom succeeded King José I.

His long reign of 43 years can be divided into two periods: a first half, in which Portugal played an active and relevant role in European and world politics; and a second half, from the 1730s onwards, in which the strategic alliance with Great Britain gradually took on greater importance, and the kingdom began to suffer a certain stagnation.

As king, João V endeavoured to project Portugal as an international power. The main material testimonies of his time are: The National Palace of Mafra, the Joanine Library of the University of Coimbra, the Águas Livres Aqueduct in Lisbon, and most of the collection of the National Coach Museum, possibly the most important in the world, also in the Portuguese capital. In the intangible field, the now defunct Royal Academy of Portuguese History, the forerunner of the current Portuguese Academy of History, should be highlighted, as well as the creation of the Lisbon Patriarchate, one of the Catholic Church's three western patriarchates.

Panteão Braganças - Mosteiro de S. Vicente Lisboa

The last diplomatic achievement of João V's reign was the Treaty of Madrid of 1750, which established the modern borders of Brazil. The traces of his reign in Brazil include cities such as: Ouro Preto, then capital of the Minas Gerais gold district; São João del-Rei, so named in his honour; Mariana, named after the queen; São José, named after the crown prince; as well as numerous other towns, churches and convents from the colonial era.

He is buried in the Pantheon of the Braganças, in the Church of São Vicente de Fora in the same city.

The Palace Of Mafra

The Palace of Mafra, or the Royal Convent of Mafra, was ordered built in 1711 by King João V to fulfil a vow for the birth of his first-born son.

"(...) Queen D. Maria Ana Josefa, who arrived more than two years ago from Austria to give infants to the Portuguese crown and has still not given birth." in Memorial do Convento

For this palace, King João V commissioned sculptures and paintings from Italian and Portuguese masters, Italian vestments and French tapestries and, in Flanders, two carillons with 92 bells - the largest carillon of his time, as well as a whole stone seven metres long and three metres and sixty-four centimetres wide, weighing thirty-one tonnes. This stone was destined for the balcony over the church's portico.

It also includes a set of six historic organs in the basilica, an important library with around 30,000 volumes, the largest single-room bookshop in Europe. The infirmary, the only surviving one from the period, stands out from the convent centre.

It was a state residence during the regency of Prince João (VI), and since the Napoleonic invasions it has been used as a military barracks and as a seasonal residence for the Royal Family. It was from this palace that Manuel II, the last Portuguese monarch, went into exile on 5 October 1910.

The Franciscan Order

In 1711, in fulfilment of a vow of thanksgiving for the birth of an heir, King João V authorised the construction of a convent for the Capuchin friars of the Order of Saint Francis, initially planning to build a small cenobium for 13 friars.

"I promise, on my royal word, that I will build a Franciscan convent in the town of Mafra if the Queen gives me a son within a year of this day on which we stand..." in Memorial do Convento

With the decision to build the new Royal Palace in Mafra and to integrate the dual function of State Residence and religious house, the initial plans to house an ever-increasing number of friars (13, 40, 80) were abandoned and a new building model was adopted, in the Jesuit Nostro style, allowing for a community of 300 friars.

Three hundred and twenty-eight Arrábidos friars joined the Mafra community in 1730, coming from various convents in the region that had been closed down by Royal Decree. During the reign of King José I, in 1771, the Franciscans, who were already very few in number, were sent to the Arrábida Convent in Setúbal, and the religious house became home to the Canons Regular of St Augustine, who had been transferred to Mafra from São Vicente de Fora. During the reign of King Maria I, in 1791, the Franciscans returned to Mafra.

The Defensive lines of Torres

The defensive lines of Torres Vedras, or simply the Lines of Torres Vedras and the Lines of Defence to the North of Lisbon, are a set of 152 fortifications and other defensive works built between 1809 and 1812 with the aim of preventing the forces of the third French invasion from gaining access to Lisbon.

The Lines of Torres Vedras were ordered built by the Duke of Wellington in October 1809, with the aim of stopping a third French invasion that was on the horizon. The aim was to prevent Napoleonic forces from reaching Lisbon. To this end, three lines of defence stretching several dozen kilometres were built.

The first line of defence stretches from Torres Vedras, passes through Sobral do Monte Agraço and ends in Alhandra. The second runs through the areas of Mafra, Montachique and Bucelas. The third covers the cove of S. Julião das Barra.

The defensive constructions took advantage of the irregularities in the terrain and included lines of trenches, artillery bastions, forts and fortresses. At some points, ditches were also opened or natural terrain features emphasised.

The construction of this intricate defence system took about a year, and Wellington hoped to stop the French troops before they reached the capital, or at least gain time to embark the English troops in Lisbon.

The first French troops sighted the lines of towers on 11 October and Massena realised that it would be impossible to overcome this obstacle without reinforcements.

There were small skirmishes but Massena finally withdrew after about a month. The French army would wander around the country for several months, pursued by Wellington, before retreating to Spain.

With the departure of the Royal Family for Brazil in 1807, even before Junot entered Lisbon, a large part of the contents of the Mafra Palace were taken, from paintings to furniture, tapestries and porcelain. Many of these pieces never made it back. At the time, the number of religious in the convent had dwindled to around 20 elderly friars, when the French entered the town of Mafra on 8 December 1807, remaining in the building for several months and the invading forces had their headquarters here.

It was during the reign of King Maria II that the court took up the habit of returning to Mafra and, together with her husband, King Ferdinand II, ordered various works to restore the building and modify the garden.

King D. Carlos I

D. Carlos I and his wife Amelia of Orléans regularly visited the Palace of Mafra, first as crown princes and later as kings, visiting the Tapada to hunt fallow deer, wild boar or to paint, a hobby to which they both devoted themselves.

The Palace of Mafra is also associated with the end of the monarchy, as it was home to King Manuel II, son of King Carlos I, who was assassinated in Lisbon in 1908. Manuel spent his last night in Mafra before going into exile with his mother Queen Amelia.

Other places to visit in Mafra

Cerco Garden

A Baroque garden offering water mirrors, wide paths, leafy trees and a century-old watermill that is still in operation. Inspired by Versailles, the woods and gardens extend over eight hectares, offering nooks and crannies, shade, waterfalls and even a peculiar vegetable garden: the Horta dos Frades, or Friars' garden. It's the perfect transition between the vastness of the royal estate and the monumentality of the National Palace of Mafra, which stands on one of its flanks.

Tapada de Mafra

Created during the reign of King João V, after the construction of the Convent of Mafra, as a leisure park for the monarch and his court, the Tapada Nacional de Mafra is today a natural heritage site with unique characteristics.

In an area of over 800 hectares, deer, fallow deer, wild boar, foxes, birds of prey and many other species coexist in a setting of unusually rich and diverse flora. A favourite haunt of Portugal's sovereigns for leisure and hunting, the Tapada de Mafra has therefore gained its own noble character, which is still preserved and maintained today.

The Palace and Convent of Mafra can be visited every day except Tuesdays. You can book the Royal Palaces tour to visit this and other important sites of the Portuguese Royal Family.


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