Pena National Palace’s story begins in the Middle Ages with the construction of a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Pena on a hilltop above the Portuguese town of Sintra. Later, in 1493, King Manuel I ordered the construction of a monastery to house eighteen monks at the site. In 1755 the catastrophic Lisbon earthquake heavily damaged the structure leaving it in ruins. The monastery remained unused for decades until in 1838 King consort Ferdinand II acquired the ruins, the surrounding land, and the nearby Castle of the Moors.
With the lands in hand King Ferdinand set out to transform the remains of the monastery into a summer palace for the Portuguese royal family. The result is what can be seen today, a fanciful structure built in the romantic style. It is a fairy tale type building in the ilk of Bavaria’s Neuschwanstein Castle. From the outside, Pena Palace looks a little like a 19th Century version of Disneyland. Inside, it’s a bit more confusing. Elements of the historic monastery co-exist with those of the more modern style of the Portuguese royal residence.
The palace’s combination of whimsical architecture and its location on a hill in a woodland park are appealing. Indeed, the palace, by visitation numbers, is by far the most touristed attraction amongst Sintra’s numerous destinations. If there is time to see just one thing in Sintra, Pena National Palace is the common choice.
Pena National Palace is included as part of the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra” in the UNESCO World Heritage listing.