Sintra – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

On a beautiful hillside, 20 miles west of Lisbon, sits the beautiful little town of Sintra.  It really is a “must” on the “to do” list when you visit Lisbon.  

I feel like I am a “broken record” describing each village with their quaint, narrow, winding streets, dotted with cafes and souvenir shops.  Honestly, that describes most historic centers of towns here in Europe.  Each town usually dates back to the medieval times and the town centers are relatively unchanged.  So, forgive my “broken record” but there are only so many words to describe small, narrow and winding roads!

It is an easy commute to Sintra from the Rossio Train station.  The train takes about 40 minutes and I must be honest, the ride isn’t very pretty.  The train passes through suburbs which by the looks of the buildings, were developed in the late 50s, early 60s.  There was nothing really pretty about the towns or the landscape.  

That all changed upon arriving in Sintra.  As you can see by the picture, there are many trees with lots of green everywhere.  Sintra is definitely on a hill and two of the major sights are at the very top.  My guide book highly recommended that you take the bus to the Pena Palace and if you really want to walk, walk down the hill.  I am so glad we decided to take the bus!  What a climb it would have been and at the end of the day, we did lots of climbing around the Pena Palace, the Pena Park and the Moors Castle.  We didn’t even want to walk down the hill, we were really tired.  Plus, the roads are narrow and it didn’t look real safe to walk on with all the traffic. 

This is the Pena (which means feather) Palace.  In the 12th Century, a Chapel dedicated to the Our Lady of Pena was built on this site.  To fulfill a vow, in 1493, King John II and Queen Lenore made a pilgrimage to the chapel.  In 1498, King Manuel, successor to King John II ordered a monastery be built on this site that he, too, was very fond of.  He donated it to the Order of St. Jerome, the same order of monks who were in the monastery in Belem.  

For many years, it remained a quiet place of meditation for the eighteen monks who lived there.  In the 1700s the building was severely damaged by lightening.  However, the earthquake of 1755 was the demise of the monastery.  

For years, it laid in ruins until 1838, when a Prince Ferdinand, of German descent and cousin to “crazy” King Ludwig who built the wonderful castles of Bavaria, decided to purchase the monastery, the Moors Castle and surrounding land to created a summer residence for the Portuguese Royal Family.  He hired a German architect and the results is a mixture of Gothic towers, Portuguese Manueline carvings, Arabic influence of tiles and minarets and Renaissance domes. It is “castle in the clouds”.  

This is the entrance gate to the palace that takes you up to the courtyard area.


In the courtyard, you can see the various architectural designs that are incorporated in the palace.  It is difficult to see in this particular picture but the facade of the palace is decorated in blue and white tiles.  


This decoration is over the archway leading to the back courtyard of the palace. It is of a half-man, half-fish sitting on a shell and it symbolizes the beginning of the world. 

The tiles and the minaret towers, of the inner courtyard, made me feel like I was inside a Moorish home in Morocco.

Most of the living area looks as it did from when the royal family lived there.  Many of the rooms still have the original furniture and throughout, there are pictures and knick-knacks.  Walking through, I almost expected to run into a member of the family. 

The Dining Room

The Queen’s Bedroom


I loved the amazing detail to each room. The tile work on the walls and the decorative plaster work on the ceilings.   

I particularly liked this plaster decoration which incorporates the pine trees and cones that surround the palace grounds.  
This room was the Arab room and they used trompe-l’oeil (french phrase that literally means “fools the eye”, it is a two dimensional painting to give a three dimensional image) to create an oriental style.

This is the back courtyard to the palace. The building on the left is the original chapel for the monastery.

Inside the Chapel

The palace is surrounded by a forested area that has been developed into a park with various paths with places of interest along the way.  We spent time walking through the park and making our way to the highest point on the Sintra Hills, which I am grateful we did as it gave us a great view of the castle. 

This is the Temple of the Columns with a Strawberry Tree, which is indigenous
to Portugal. 

This is Cruz Alta (High Cross) that is at the highest point of the Sintra Hills at 1735 ft.  Although we didn’t start at the bottom of the hill, we still had quite a climb to get to the cross. It was well worth it as the view was wonderful.  The picture of Pena Palace that I have at the beginning of this post was taken from this spot.


From the park, we walked a short distance down the hill to the Moors Castle.  It was built during the 8th and 9th century when the Arabs had rule of this area.In 1147,it was taken by Christian forces and was used by King Afonso, the first Portuguese king.  
I am certain that this castle had a rich history but in all honesty, there wasn’t much to it but the amazing walls which had been restored in the 19th century. David and I walked all around the walls, climbed the various towers and enjoyed the views as our reward.  

The smoke off in the distance was a forest fire.  We could here the sirens of

the fire trucks responding to it.  From our viewpoint, it looked like quite a bit of damage was done by it.


The National Palace of Sintra also dates back to Moorish times.  After a full day of touring the Pena Palace, Pena Park and the Moors Castle in 90 degree heat, we didn’t have the energy or the time to go through the National Palace.

It was a fun day, but by the end of the day, we were tired and just glad for an excuse to sit as we rode the train back to Lisbon.

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