Natural environment of the garden
The Cultural Landscape of Sintra is located in Portugal’s central region, at the extreme west of the Iberian Peninsula and a few kilometres away from the Atlantic Ocean. This Cultural Landscape is an exceptional mixture of natural and cultural sites within a distinct framework. Seen from a distance, it gives the impression of an essentially natural landscape that is distinct from its surroundings: a small chain of forested granite mountains rising over the hilly rural landscape. When seen from closer at hand, the Serra reveals a surprisingly rich cultural evidence spanning over several centuries of Portugal’s history.
This cultural landscape is an extraordinary and unique complex of parks, gardens, palaces, country houses, monasteries and castles, which create an architecture that harmonizes with the exotic and overgrown vegetation, creating micro-landscapes of exotic and luxuriant beauty. This amalgamation of exotic styles changes the landscape into an abundant world which offers surprises at every turn in the path, leading the visitor from a discovery to another. Its uniqueness and botanical richness presented to the visitor with great accuracy, and its charming environment make it unique among landscapes. This syncretism between nature and ancient monuments, villas, monasteries and chalets influenced the development of landscape architecture throughout Europe.
Regarding the Park of Pena its a vast area (85 ha.) spread over the highest points of the Serra de Sintra. Originally a convent (founded in 1503), it was transformed by King Ferdinand II, king consort to the Queen Maria II. From 1840 onwards, King Ferdinand began to build the Palace of Pena and the surrounding forests and gardens. The gardened areas contain important collections of Camellias, Tree Ferns, Conifers and areas of natural vegetation whilst the arboretum contains impressive individual specimens of Cryptomeria japonica, Sequoia sempervirens, Thuya plicata and various species of Abies. From 1910 the park was administered by the Portuguese national forest service and there are extensive trial plantings of forest species. Currently undergoing extensive restoration work is a section of the park known as the “Chalet da Condessa.” Here the gardens are of a gardenesque character and contain a tremendous population of tree ferns, camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons.
Historical background of the garden
The Park and National Palace of Pena stands atop a rocky peak, which is the second highest point in the Sintra hills. The palace is situated in the eastern part of the Park of Pena, which one has to pass through to reach the steep ramp built by the Baron of Eschwege that provides access to the castle-like building. The palace itself is composed of two wings: the former Manueline monastery of the Order of St. Jerome and the wing built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. These wings are ringed by a third architectural structure that is a fantasised version of an imaginary castle, whose walls one can walk around which comprises battlements, watchtowers, an entrance tunnel and even a drawbridge.
In 1838, King Ferdinand II acquired the former Hieronymite monastery of Our Lady of Pena, which had been built by King Manuel I in 1511 on the top of the hill above Sintra and had been left unoccupied since 1834 when the religious orders were suppressed in Portugal. The monastery consisted of the cloister and its outbuildings, the chapel, the sacristy and the bell tower, which today form the northern section of the Palace of Pena, or the Old Palace as it is known.
King Ferdinand began by making repairs to the former monastery, refurbishing the whole upper floor and replacing the fourteen cells used by the monks with larger-sized room, covering them with the vaulted ceilings that can still be seen today. In roughly 1843, the king decided to enlarge the palace by building a new wing (the New Palace) with even larger romos. In transforming a former monastery into a castle-like residence, King Ferdinand showed that he was heavily influenced by German romanticism, and that he probably found his inspiration in the Stolzenfels and Rheinstein castles on the banks of the Rhine, as well as Babelsberg Palace in Potsdam.
King Ferdinand also ordered the Park of Pena to be planted in the Palace’s surrounding areas in the style of the romantic gardens of that time, with winding paths, pavilions and stone benches placed at different points along its routes, as well as trees and other plants originating from the four corners of the earth. In this way, the king took advantage of the mild and damp climate of the Sintra hills to create an entirely new and exotic park with over five hundred different species of trees.
The most fascinating construction in the Park of Pena is the Chalet of the Countess of Edla, also known as the House of Indulgence, which is located at the park’s western end. Its building was commissioned by King Ferdinand II and his future second wife, Elise Hensler (the Countess of Edla), as a private summer residence. It is a two-storey building with a very scenic appearance, denoting a distinctive alpine inspiration and maintaining an expressive visual relationship with the Palace.
The Palace of Pena was designated a National Monument in 1910 and forms part of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra, which has been classified by UNESCO as World Heritage since 1995.
Description of the Garden
The Park of Pena is composed of several gardens and landscaped areas stretching over 85 hectares, where native and exotic plant species originating from the four corners of the earth appear side by side in a luxuriant setting considered by some to be among the most beautiful scenery in both Portugal and Europe.
Here you will find an extensive system of water features that includes waterfalls, ponds, lakes and fountains, as well as small decorative buildings scattered around the park, whose location is based on the careful and systematic selection of remarkable viewing points. All of these details underline the romantic atmosphere of this historic park, whose capacity to seduce and delight still remains very much alive, more than a century later.
This consists of two rectangular one-storey buildings or pavilions on either side of a railed gate. These buildings, which possibly once formed part of the entrance to the estate of the Hieronymite Monks, reflect the romantic inspiration of King Fernando II, who, with the support of the Baron of Eschwege, transformed them according to the tastes of the time, to be used for entirely new purposes. The original bodies of both buildings were given vaulted roofs: built of stone and mortar, the one on the left has a vault that is lightened with ceramic tubes
Queen Amélia’s Garden
This is the former service area, where a formal garden was built in the French style by Queen Amélia.
The Dovecote House
A multimedia space containing a 3D model of the Sintra landscape.
An area of level ground that was used as the riding school for the princes and as the first tennis court. The magnolias have become its most distinctive feature.
A building and tank with a device that pumped up water to supply the water storage tanks of the Palace of Pena.
Temple of the Columns
Situated at the observation point known as St. Anthony’s Heights, and offering a spectacular view over the palace, the Temple of the Columns was built in 1840 on the site of a former chapel dedicated to St. Anthony. This decorative building was a present to King Fernando II from his father.
Statue of the Warrior
A granite sculpture (1848) made by Ernesto Rusconi. This is a non-individualised figure of a knight that forms part of the beautiful scenery of the Park of Pena.
Table of the Queen
King Fernando II commissioned the building of various seating areas in the Park of Pena, covered with asphalt, a technique that the Baron of Eschwege introduced at Pena. This was one of Queen Amélia’s favourite spots.
529 metres above sea level, this stone cross is situated at the highest point of the Sintra hills. It has been placed at the spot where King João III had already ordered the building of a cross in the 16th century.
Saint Catherine’s Heights
Queen Amélia’s favourite viewing point, where the “Queen’s Throne” has been carved into the rock.
Grotto of the Monk
A quiet retreat where the Hieronymite monks used to come to meditate.
Garden planted on the site of the vegetable patches of the 16th-century monastic estate, built on a series of terraces transformed into a garden structure. It was here that a collection of Portuguese varieties of camellias was planted that had been specially created by the nurseryman Marques Loureiro from Porto and offered to King Fernando II in the course of the 19th century. Among the different varieties, the special highlight is the collection created in homage to the Portuguese Royal Family of that time.
Located on flat land, in a secluded walled enclosure, the hot house can be reached through the Camellia Garden, between the Fountain of the Small Birds and the Manueline chapel. Its importance is marked by its surrounding wall and the entrances decorated with stone pilasters and capitals, repeating the geometrical forms of the Park’s main entrance gate. This small greenhouse is rectangular in shape with a pitched glass roof. It also has a small annexe, which houses the furnace used for heating the inside of the greenhouse, equipped with a plumbing system specifically designed for this purpose. This heating system is still visible and in working order.
The Queen’s Fern Valley
A collection of tree ferns planted in a valley with special climatic conditions. The ferns were brought here from Australia and New Zealand, having undergone a prior period of acclimatisation in the Azores.
This giant cedar is a species that is native to the north-west coast of the United States and the south-west region of Canada. This tree was planted in the time of King Fernando II, and it is distinguished from the other specimens in the Park due to its extraordinary size.
• 12th Century
Chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena, or Penha in allusion to the Portuguese word for the huge boulders dotting the top of the hill on which the chapel got constructed.
Beginning of the construction of the Royal Monastery of Our Lady of Pena, funded by King Manuel I. The Monastery is handed over to the Order of Saint Jerome.
Abolition of religious orders in Portugal and the abandoning of the monastery.
Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (King Ferdinand II) marries Queen Maria II.
King Ferdinand II acquires the monastery and its respective grounds in a public auction.
Beginning of restoration work on the monastery.
Beginning of construction on the “New Palace”, undertaken by King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II under the supervision of Baron von Eschwege.
Death of Queen Maria II.
Completion of the mural decoration in the Visitor’s Room and the Main Room.
King Ferdinand meets the opera singer Elise Hensler and begins courting her.
King Ferdinand and Elise Hensler oversee work on the Chalet and the Garden surrounding the western flanks of the Park of Pena.
Acquisition of furniture and textiles for the Noble Hall, the Smoking Room and the Dining House.
Marriage of King Ferdinand II and Elise Hensler, who is bestowed with the title of the Countess of Edla by King Ferdinand’s cousin, the reigning Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Ernest II.
Death of King Ferdinand II. The Palace and Park are left in his will to the Countess of Edla.
Following a judicial process, the Countess agrees to the sale of the Palace and Park of Pena to the state and receiving the lifelong right to reside in and benefit from the Chalet and Garden (which she rescinds in 1904).
Regicide of King Carlos I and the Royal Prince Luís Filipe.
With the declaration of the Republic, the royal family departs for exile with King Manuel II thus becoming the last king to reside in Pena.
The now National Palace of Pena opens to the public as a museum.
UNESCO classifies the hills and historical town of Sintra as World Heritage Cultural Landscape, the first to receive this category in Europe. The Palace and Park of Pena fall within the scope of this classification.
Parques de Sintra takes over the management of the Park of Pena and its adjoining hunting grounds.
Parques de Sintra takes over the management of the National Palace of Pena.
Brief description of the Interpretation Centre/Museum
|The Palace’s history started in the Middle Ages when a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena was built on the top of the hill above Sintra. According to tradition, construction occurred after an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
In 1493, King John II, accompanied by his wife Queen Leonor, made a pilgrimage to the site to fulfill a vow. His successor, King Manuel I, was also very fond of this sanctuary, and ordered the construction of a monastery on this site which was donated to the Order of Saint Jerome. For centuries Pena was a small, quiet place for meditation, housing a maximum of eighteen monks.
In the 18th century the monastery was severely damaged by lightning. However, it was the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, occurring shortly afterwards, that took the heaviest toll on the monastery, reducing it to ruins. Nonetheless, the chapel (and its works of marbleand alabaster attributed to Nicolau Chanterene) escaped without significant damage.
For many decades the ruins remained untouched, but they still astonished young prince Ferdinand. In 1838, as King consort Ferdinand II, he decided to acquire the old monastery, all of the surrounding lands, the nearby Castle of the Moors and a few other estates in the area. King Ferdinand then set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a palace that would serve as a summer residence for the Portuguese royal family. The commission for the Romantic style rebuilding was given to Lieutenant-General and mining engineer Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. Eschwege, a German amateur architect, was much traveled and likely had knowledge of several castles along the Rhine river. The construction took place between 1842–1854, although it was almost completed in 1847: King Ferdinand and Queen Maria II intervened decisively on matters of decoration and symbolism. Among others, the King suggested vault arches, Medieval and Islamic elements be included, and he also designed an ornate window for the main façade (inspired by the chapter house window of the Convent of the Order of Christ in Tomar).
After the death of Ferdinand the palace passed into the possession of his second wife Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla. The latter then sold the palace to King Luís, who wanted to retrieve it for the royal family, and thereafter the palace was frequently used by the family. In 1889 it was purchased by the Portuguese State, and after the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was classified as a national monument and transformed into a museum.
The palace quickly drew visitors and became one of Portugal’s most visited monuments. Over time the colors of the red and yellow façades faded, and for many years the palace was visually identified as being entirely gray. By the end of the 20th century the palace was repainted and the original colors restored.
In 1995, the palace and the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.