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Sintra's Amazing Palaces and Castles

© By Adam Southwood
  Streetscape With an extensive range of green hills and crags, the Serra de Sintra, so situated, offers stupendous views of the Portuguese coastline with its impressive beauty. Sintra, with a population of 500,000, sits on the northern slope of the wooded hills of Serra de Sintra. It's only 30 km (20 mi) northwest of Lisbon, a mere 12 km (7.5 m) from the sea. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its 19th century Romantic architecture.
     Sintra has two cities within its boundaries: Queluz and Cacém and has become a major tourist attraction, with many day-trippers visiting from nearby Lisbon. Attractions include the extraordinary Pena Palace (19th c.) and the Castelo dos Mouros (reconstructed 19th c.) with a breath-taking view of the Sintra-Cascais Park and the summer residence of the kings of Portugal Palacio Nacional de Sintra (largely 15th/16th c.), in the town itself.
     The Sintra Mountain Range, one of the largest parks in the Lisbon area, (Serra de Sintra) is also a major tourist attraction. In 1809 Lord Byron wrote to a friend, "I must just observe that the village of Cintra in Estremadura is the most beautiful in the world."
     The town centre is dominated by the Pena National Palace and its two massive towers. Surrounded by a lovely landscaped park, the palace was rebuilt in 1839, an extraordinary examples of Portugal's imperial country architecture.
     Palácio da Pena, or "Castelo da Pena" as it is more commonly known, is the most complete example of Portuguese architecture in the Romantic period, standing majestically on one of the rocky Serra de Sintra peaks. In 1839, King Consort Dom Fernando II of Saxe Coburg-Gotha (1816-1885) bought the ruins of the Hieronymite Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena and adapted it for use as a residence, filling his romantic taste. Around the restored ruins of the monastery, grew an incredible pastiche, inspired by the palaces and castles of Bavaria. This fanciful edifice owes much of its inspiration to Moorish, Gothic and Manueline influences as well as the Wagnerian spirit of the Schinkel Castles of Central Europe.

Pena Palace Interior  Pena Palace  Pena Palace  Pena Palace 

     Many halls and patios boast splendid azulejos, hand-painted glazed tiles from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The chapel and cloister are part of the original monastery. What remains is a fanciful mix of pastel-coloured turrets and battlements, with the aforementioned traces of Gothic, Manueline and Renaissance architecture combined.
     The surrounding landscaped park is well designed, containing a 16 century cross marking the highest point of the Serra de Sinta, and from here, one is offered incredible, panoramic views.

Palacio Nacional de Queluz  Palacio Nacional de Queluz  Palace  Macas Beach 

     The Moors built the Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros), perched on the crest of the Serra and the residence of the Moorish princes became the origin of the Paço Real (Royal Palace). The Moors surrendered to Dom Afonso Henriques in 1147, a few days after Lisbon had been re-taken.
     The Royal Palace was gradually enlarged and flourished in the 19th century, with the age of Romanticism accompanied with the construction of sumptuous revivalist buildings such as the Palácio da Pena. The gradual multiplication of buildings with different styles is largely responsible for the enchantment of this ancient palace, dominated by great twin chimneys.

Castello dos Mouros  Caba da Roca  Azenhas do Mar  Adraga Beach 

     Nearby, Quinta da Regaliera is an eye-catching villa built at the turn of the 20th century. Decorated with symbols of alchemy, the Knights Templar and Portuguese mythology, the splendid garden is full of lakes, fountains and grottos. Pathways lead to the "Initiation Well," with its spiral staircase descending to mysterious underground caverns. And, if you tire of climbing hills and visiting palaces, the beaches here are wonderful also.

Adam Southwood writes for Canadian, U.S. and European magazines and newspapers. He is a graduate of both McMaster University in Hamilton and UWO in London with an interest in culture and history. He has produced several educational programs for TV.

Photo Credits
Courtesy of Tourism Portugal

If you go
Sintra, Portugal
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Visit Portugal: http://www.visitportugal.com/Cultures/en-us/default.html
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sintra,_Portugal
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Sintra

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