It's much harder these days to storm a palace. No longer can one put on some chain mail, some evil pointy-toed metal boots, mount a steed and charge. There's no plotting about what to do about the moat, or how many arrows must be carried. Now, it's a train ride, a bus ride and then some walking. Looting is not allowed. Pfft! But while the thrill of conquering may be over, the thrill of a palace still runs pretty deep in my veins.
Sintra is a small town of about 33,000 that sits in the mountains above Lisbon. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its galore of 18- 19th century Romantic architecture. Among the attractions are the amazing Pena Palace (19th c.) and the castle Castelo dos Mouros (built by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century, reconstructed in the 19th century). The castelo offers a breath-taking view of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, as well as the summer residence of the kings of Portugal Palácio Nacional de Sintra (largely 15th/16th century), in the town itself.
The first view of the Pena Palace comes after a bus ride through a winding, narrow road climbing into the clouds. The bus driver seems to believe he is in a video game and will win points for knocking over unwary pedestrians. He happily shoots around curves then screeches to a halt to back up the bus to make a particularly sharp curve. I wonder if the people who occupy the house where he backs up pray a lot.
We disembark without the driver making any points.
A short walk up a hill reveals what seems to be a mirage:
This palace was built for a king by his queen and once the queen died, the king promptly moved in his mistress. Given the grandiosity of the palace, one might guess that they all could have lived together, yet separate.
The palace entrance.
The king's quarters.
Good to be King, eh?
Imagine storming this.
The arches, the place colors, the tiles,
it's all in the amazing attention to detail.
Photos are not allowed inside. So, imagine rooms devoted to writing, to painting, to embroidery. Imagine a bathtub of marble sitting in the middle of a room as large as a living room--the handmaidens needed someplace to stand whilst the queen partook of her tub. Imagine a room devote to India, and one to Africa, and one to Japan. Each room is decorated to the hilt: every surface area is covered, walls are tiled, wallpapered, painted with murals or with wooden carvings.
One sign on the palace tour said it best:
"Note the horror of empty spaces and a desire to collect."
This is the view of Pena Palace from the Moorish Castle. That's where I will take you next. We've stormed the palace and now we'll conquer the castle.