The Pena Palace stands on the top of a hill in the Sintra Mountains above the town of Sintra, and on a clear day it can be easily seen from Lisbon and much of its metropolitan area. It is a national monument and constitutes one of the major expressions of 19th-century Romanticism in the world. The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. It is also used for state occasions by the President of the Portuguese Republic and other government officials.

The castle'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. 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. 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 marble and alabaster) 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 Baron 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.

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 last queen of Portugal, Queen Amélia, spent her last night at the palace before leaving the country in exile.

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.



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Founded: 1842-1854
Category: Palaces, manors and town halls in Portugal


4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Daria Kępa-Green (13 months ago)
What a stunning place! Everything is a feast for the eyes. The architecture, the tiles, paintings the design of the whole place. Just amazing! If you’re going to see only 3 palaces in your life, this one should be one of them. Recommend getting there as early as possible and do the palace first (then the gardens), that way you should avoid masses that rightfully want to see this beauty too
Haris Baig (15 months ago)
This is one of my favorite castles. It's got the perfect summer colours and the location. It's totally worth spending a day at. Getting to it is fairly simple and there are lots of places to hike around. The castle is stunning and the grounds have some gorgeous vantage points overlooking Sintra. Would definitely go back.
Gilly Robinson (15 months ago)
Absolutely stunning views from all angles. Great job of posting information within the castle, and the ability to listen to recorded tour guide. Washrooms and eating areas kept clean as well. Lots of cobblestone hills outside, and a fair amount of stairs inside...enough to make it an accessibility challenge for people with joint issues. Elevators available for some portions.
David Byers (2 years ago)
Go early and avoid the crowds - it's worth it! The grounds were immaculate and there were plenty of restrooms. The climb from the bus drop off to the entry was steep, but the reward was worth it! Architecturally, the castle is all over the place, with bright yellows and blues combined with ornate doorways, windows, and ceilings. Be sure to tour the well-preserved rooms with the gorgeous furniture and fixtures!
Andrew Stratford (2 years ago)
The palace is great from the outside, but I want particularly bothered with the stuff on the inside. And it was slow going, because of the people around all the time and taking pictures. The terraces were less crowded and the view was great. The ticket also includes as much rambling around the park as your feet can handle. It is really well maintained and parts of it are really picturesque. Worth taking the time to visit the countess's chalet; it's included in the ticket price. There were only a few visitors when I was there. Tip: buy the tickets online. You'll save 5% and can walk past a hundred or more people queuing to buy tickets there. Another tip. Stroll up the hill some more to get to the Alta Cruz. Go to the right and you'll find narrow steps going down. Pretty soon there's an unpaved path to the left. Follow it for about 10 metres and you'll get a great shot of the palace - the one I've included here.
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In 1034, the castle became capital of the County of Foix and played a decisive role in medieval military history. During the two following centuries, the castle was home to Counts with shining personalities who became the soul of the Occitan resistance during the crusade against the Albigensians. The county became a privileged refuge for persecuted Cathars.

The castle, often besieged (notably by Simon de Montfort in 1211 and 1212), resisted assault and was only taken once, in 1486, thanks to treachery during the war between two branches of the Foix family.

From the 14th century, the Counts of Foix spent less and less time in the uncomfortable castle, preferring the Governors' Palace. From 1479, the Counts of Foix became Kings of Navarre and the last of them, made Henri IV of France, annexed his Pyrrenean lands to France.

As seat of the Governor of the Foix region from the 15th century, the castle continued to ensure the defence of the area, notably during the Wars of Religion. Alone of all the castles in the region, it was exempted from the destruction orders of Richelieu (1632-1638).

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Since 1930, the castle has housed the collections of the Ariège départemental museum. Sections on prehistory, Gallo-Roman and mediaeval archaeology tell the history of Ariège from ancient times. Currently, the museum is rearranging exhibits to concentrate on the history of the castle site so as to recreate the life of Foix at the time of the Counts.