Palácio Nacional da Pena (Pena National Palace)

Just a short walk up the hill from the Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal, is the spectacular Pena National Palace. Painted in vivid shades of yellow, red and blue with highly detailed ornamental trim, it’s the kind of palace one would expect to see at Walt Disney World. But the only roller coaster you’ll find here is the one that carries you through 800-plus years of tumultuous history.

Pena palace

Pena Palace sits on the second-highest peak in the Sintra hills, and offers incredible views of the sprawling, forested lands below.

Pena Palace view

In the 12th Century, long before the palace was constructed, this hilltop was home to a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena. It was built after an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared.

In 1503 the Royal Monastery, funded by Manuel I, was built on this site. The monastery was home to the Order of Saint Jerome. The original niche from the monastery was remarkably preserved and can still be seen today. It was decorated with shells, stones and porcelain pieces. It was later used as a storeroom.

Original monastery niche

The earthquake in 1755 nearly turned the entire monastery into a pile of rubble, but the chapel remained relatively unscathed.

In 1834 the monastery was abandoned after religious orders in Portugal were abolished. The site remained untouched for four years. King Ferdinand II acquired the monastery and surrounding lands in an auction, including the nearby Moorish Castle. Restoration work began on the monastery almost immediately, and by 1843 construction started on the “New Palace”. The palace consists of two wings; the old 16th Century Manueline monastery and the 19th Century wing built under King Ferdinand’s watchful eye. The old monastery was organized around a cloister:

Pena Palace courtyard

Pena Palace cloister

The two wings are most easily identified by their paint colours. Ochre for the new wing:

Pena Palace 19th wing

And red for the old monastic wing:

Pena palace 16th C monastic wing

Chapel and clock tower

The palace was designed in the Romantic style by a German architect named Baron Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege. His design was heavily influenced by the German castles along the Rhine. However, King Ferdinand and his wife Queen Maria II had a vast amount of input into the design details. The king asked for vaulted arches and Medieval and Islamic influences to be added.

Pena Palace gate

There are numerous oceanic symbols in the architecture as well. My favourite being this whimsical newt above the entryway:


Gah, I loved him so much, I could have stared at him forever. He reminds me of the Dancing Faun statue at Pompeii. Notice the clam shells and detailed barnacles around the doorway as well. Magnificent architecture.

They didn’t hold back on the interior design either. This was the vaulted ceiling in the reception room:

Reception room ceiling

The reigning royal family lived at the palace until the Portuguese Revolution of 1910. They were then forced into exile with King Manuel II, the last king to live at Pena Palace. The palace was turned into a museum in 1911. After you’re finished visiting the palace you can walk around the extensive grounds. They were so serene and lush that we could have easily spent a full day taking it all in. Even the ducks had little castles to call home!

Pena park

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