From the founding of the nation around 1139, to the Revolution of 1910 – Portugal was a kingdom, ruled by three dynasties and 33 kings and queens. “Eight Centuries of Portuguese Monarchy a Political Study” was written by Vicente De Bragança Cunha in 1911, and just reprinted by Forgotten Books. So we thought, what if our guests wanted to be treated like a king or queen today? So here is look at the royal palaces you can explore, and some you can even stay in!
Through the nearly 800 years during which Portugal was a monarchy, great palaces were built by the kings and queen that survive today . As many travelers seem drawn to the royal, we though we would take a tour of some of the most intriguing palaces and royal courts – south to north. And we picked a few you can stay in.
Seat of the Bragança Dynasty: Vila Viçosa (Alentejo)
Set in one of the most fertile regions of the Alentejo, Vila Viçosa was once at the center of Portuguese history.
The House of the Dukes of Bragança, the most powerful noble family after the Royal Family, was founded here. The first Duke of Bragança was D. Afonso, the illegitimate son of King D. João I (1385-1433). The massive Ducal Palace, which is open to visitors, was the work of the fourth Duke of Bragança, D. Jaime, who made an important contribution to the town’s development in the sixteenth century. In 1640, the Braganças came to power. During the Cortes (a royal parliament) of 1646, king D. João IV, the eighth Duke of Bragança, crowned the image of Our Lady of the Conception, who was worshipped at the parish church, and declared her to be the patron saint of Portugal. Since then, the monarchs of Portugal never again wore a royal crown.
Set in the heart of Vila Viçosa, the palace is set at the foot of the castle hill, rising 1,296 feet above a grand square.
The building consists of a grand rectangular profile, extending east to west, with three floors, and an irregular trapezoid structure to the north-south, with the roofing differently tiled above each of the spaces. The principal facade is fully lined with masonry and pink Estremoz marble, corresponding to the three respective floors and central pediment broken by two main doorways. Inside room after room recalls the royal lifestyle, and what it meant to be king. The armory is exhaustive, with every mean of weapon one can imagine.
And, next door the Pousada D. João IV, guests are welcomed into the former 16th century convent, built by D. Jaime of the House of Bragança.
Summer retreat of the Kings: Sintra (Lisbon)
In the 12th century, Dom Afonso Henriques, the first King of Portugal, captured Sintra’s Moorish Castle, and his successors later built their summer residence in this mountain town outside of Lisbon.
Sintra National Palace
The Sintra national palace is unique among the royal medieval palaces in Portugal, mostly for it twin huge chimneys soaring from its center.
Beginning with the nation’s first dynasties, Sintra was one of the preferred places of Portuguese kings and queens, although the palace owes its existence to an initiative of King Dom João I, who rebuilt the older palace, and Dom Manuel I, who enriched the building’s decorative character and added a new wing.
The interior decoration is remarkable, a masterpiece of various artistic styles that depended on the respective tastes of the kings and queens who lived here, and carried out in such elaborate way as to give different names to the various rooms. In particular, the attention of visitors is drawn to the Sala dos Cisnes (Swans’ Room), the Sala dos Brasões (Armory), the Sala das Pegas (Magpie or Reading Room) and the chapel.
Pena National Palace
Sintra’s fantastic Palácio da Pena is one of the best examples of 19th-century Romantic revivalism in Portugal.
Set at the top of the Monte da Pena, the palace was built on the site of an old monastery belonging to the Order of St. Jerome. It was the dream royal Regent Dom Fernando of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, who married the queen Dona Maria II in 1836. After falling in love with Sintra, he decided to buy the convent and the surrounding land to build a summer palace for the royal family.
The king consort adopted Portuguese architectural and decorative forms for the palace, which he built according to the revivalist taste (Gothic revival, Manueline revival, Moorish revival, Renaissance revival), and, in the surrounding area, he decided to make a magnificent woodland park in the English style, with a wide variety of exotic tree species.
The interior of the palace is still decorated in the tastes of the kings and queens who lived there, and its great highlight is the chapel, where it is still possible to see a magnificent alabaster altarpiece attributed to Nicolau Chanterenne (one of the architects of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, in Lisbon). Special reference should also be made to the painting of the walls with a trompe l’oeil effect and the azulejos.
Want to be a noble? Stay at the nearby five-star Tivoli Palácio de Seteais palace – a masterpiece from the 18th century. The beautifully decorated rooms with furnishings of extraordinary wealth and the ballrooms with their rich tapestries and incredible frescos make this hotel something quite unique and every event or stay becomes an unforgettable experience.
Portuguese Versailles: Queluz Palace (Lisbon)
Queluz is just six miles from Lisbon. In the early 18th century it was the country setting of the royal family’s estate and hunting lodge, which the Prince Dom Pedro, son of King Dom João V, decided to have converted into the Summer Palace.
The conversion work between 1747 and 1760 was supervised by the architects Mateus Vicente de Oliveira and the Frenchman Robillion, who added a west wing to the initial plan, known as the Robillion Pavilion, and worked on the decoration of the finest spaces such as the Throne Room, the Music Room and the Ambassadors’ Room.
The palace, predominantly in the Rococo style, contains an important collection of decorative art, Portuguese furniture, paintings, carpets, porcelain and tiles. The geometrically designed gardens, too, are very beautiful, surrounding the palace and concealing lakes and sculptures, and in the park there is a tiled canal through which a stream used to flow and where the royal family would take boat trips. The annexes to the main building have been converted into a Pousada.
The palace salons are open to the public for classical music concerts and every Wednesday there are performances by the Portuguese Riding School in the open-air riding arena.
Why not stay over? The Pousada de Queluz – D. Maria I is set in the clock tower building, next to the National Palace of Queluz and the permanent residence of the royal family from 1794. The building of the Tower is by the architect and staff sergeant Manuel Caetano de Sousa, and served as a warehouse and as the quarters for the staff in service to the palace. Cozinha Velha Restaurant is set in the ancient kitchens of the Palace of Queluz and offers delicious delicacies, according to the most traditional recipes of Portuguese cuisine. Here you will find the ideal environment for a romantic dinner for two, and the strength of character for a successful business lunch.
Grand in every measure: Mafra (Lisbon)
Mafra, near Lisbon is known for its imposing Palace-Convent, the largest edifice in Portugal, built by order of King Dom João V in the 18th century. A recent renovation inside and out as brought back its luster.
King Dom João V, who still had no children three years into his marriage to Dona Maria Ana of Austria, promised the Franciscan monks that he would build them a convent in the Mafra area if his prayers for an heir to the throne were answered.
So, on the occasion of the birth of his daughter Dona Maria Pia, he began the building, the plan for which was initially quite modest. After the German architect Ludwig was contracted, however, the plan underwent considerable changes as a result of the luxury Portugal was experiencing at the time on account of the wealth coming from Brazil. Hence this grandiose monument was built, (including a convent for 300 friars, a basilica and a 666-room royal palace), in a record time, from 1717 to 1730, to be inaugurated on the king´s 41st birthday.
The Mafra Game Preserve that adjoins the Convent, acquired by King Dom João IV in the mid-18th century to enhance the value of the set of buildings, was used as a game reserve, and is now open to the public.
Kings build a noble University: Coimbra
This center of learning at the University of Coimbra was founded in 1290 and is built on what was once a royal palace.
Founded by Dom Dinis, the University was transferred between Lisbon and Coimbra during the reigns of several monarchs until it was definitively established in this city in 1537, by King Dom João III. Since then, it has continued to occupy the same buildings, the former mediaeval royal palace, acquired by the university in 1597.
The subjects studied here were theology, medicine and law until the 18th century when the Marquês de Pombal changed the educational system and introduced other subjects. Today, the University has seven faculties – Arts, Law, Medicine, Science and Technology, Pharmacy, Economics and Psychology and Educational Sciences.
Standing in a most privileged position overlooking the rest of the city, with a magnificent view over the River Mondego, the University is a complex building, constructed around a central courtyard in which a number of features stand out because of their artistic interest and symbolism. The entrance to the University is through the Porta Férrea (Iron Gate), an impressive Mannerist work (1634), where one can see the statues of the University´s patrons, the kings Dom Dinis and Dom João III.
In the center is the Via Latina, a Mannerist colonnade built in the 18th century and indicating that Latin was the “official language” formerly used inside this space. The entrance through the loggia leads to the Sala Grande dos Actos (the Ceremonial Hall), and in the corner is the famous Tower. Built in 1728, it can be seen from all around the city and has become its most distinctive landmark. It has four bells, which used to regulate the routine of academic life and that of the city itself. The tower has always been tenderly referred to by the students as “a Cabra” (the goat).
King’s Palace still reigns over Leiria
To founding King Dom Afonso Henriques, the conqueror of Leiria in 1135 and the founder of its castle, the town was the advance point for his strategy of conquering Santarém, Sintra and Lisbon from the Moors.
In 1254, Dom Afonso III held his first Cortes (royal parliament) here, attended by the representatives of all the kingdom’s towns, an event that was considered extremely important in the history of Portugal, for it was the first time that the common people had been allowed to express their opinions and make petitions to the king.
In the 14th century, King Dom Dinis and his wife, the Sainted Queen Isabel, lived in the castle because they enjoyed its sweeping views over the charming countryside all around.
The king’s reign was marked by the planting of the Leiria pine forest all along the coastal strip in order to protect the sand dunes from erosion. Its maritime pines were to provide the timber and pitch used in the building of Portuguese ships, especially during the period of the Exploration, and even today this immense patch of green is a very pleasant place for a hike.
During the 15th century by the order of King Joao I, the royal palace was expanded with arched galleries providing views over the city itself. The addition of these galleries two twin towers were added each. These towers were designed as bedrooms and private quarters for the royal family. The castle and the palace still stand and welcome your visit today.
The hunting Lodge built for the last kings: Bussaco (Centro)
The last king of Portugal left the country never to return before enjoying the then new hunting lodge and palace in Bussaco forest. This romantic palace, set in the Bussaco National Forest, is today a five star hotel with floor to ceiling tiles and an elegant restaurant offering a range of exclusive Bussaco wines.
Classic French cuisine and traditional Portuguese dishes are served at the Palace Hotel do Bussaco’s restaurant. It is decorated with paintings by João Vaz, Moresque ceilings and exotic-hardwood floors. Guests can try a glass of rare Port vintage at the bar.
Palace Hotel do Bussaco is an excellent example of Manueline-Gothic revival architecture. Its richly decorated corridors feature antique furnishings, large paintings and traditional Portuguese glazed tiles.
Located in the heart of the Serra do Bussaco, Palace Hotel do Bussaco is about 18 miles north of Coimbra.
Cradle of Kings: Guimarães (Norte)
For the Portuguese people, Guimarães is a very special place, for it was in a field close to the walls of its castle that King D. Afonso Henriques won the Battle of São Mamede, on the 24th of June 1128. By emerging victorious from this struggle against his mother, Afonso Henriques began the process that would lead to the foundation of the kingdom of Portugal, of which he was to become the first king (and one of the greatest).
Today the Colina Sagrada (Sacred Hill) is still crowned by Guimarães Castle, itself full of so many royal memories, as well as the small Romanesque chapel of São Miguel, where Afonso Henriques was baptized in the fountain that can still be seen inside. In an interpretation created by the sculptor Soares dos Reis (1834), an imposing statue placed further down the hill makes it possible for us to imagine both the face and the courage features of the first Portuguese king.
Solares de Portugal offers accommodation in historic manor houses amid the rich legacy of Portugal’s architectural and cultural heritage. The Solares represent centuries of Portuguese history and culture. The majority are 17th and 18th century houses still in the ownership of the descendants of the founding family – and here is a deal:
PRICES: double rooms start at 65 euros
Prices are in Euros and are per double/twin and per night. Prices include breakfast and private bathroom. For information, please visit the website www.solaresdeportugal.pt or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Azores or Lisbon?
Late fall is warm and sunny in Portugal, and now for a limited time, SATA Airlines if offering a great deal to get away for 4 to 7 days. Fly from Boston to the Azores for just $568 round-trip (all fees and tax included), or escape to Lisbon for just $693. Do some holiday shopping, enjoy the decorations and lights, hike outdoors, or explore an ancient castle or fort.
Valid from November 20 to 30, 2012, book by October 15
For more information and reservations, contact SATA at 800-762-9995, www.sata.pt.