Europe Lisbon Mafra Portugal

Mafra and the National Palace

On our long weekend in Ericeira, we shot over to Mafra, 15 minutes inland. Mafra is home to the Mafra National Palace. The National Palace is massive. “The Royal Convent and Palace of Mafra is the most important baroque monument in Portugal. The building covers an area of almost four hectares (37.790 m2), including 1.200 rooms, more than 4.700 doors and windows, 156 stairways and 29 inner yards and courtyards.” (Source). Now a museum, active church and a military base, the National Palace was constructed on order by King João V between 1689 and 1750.

In contrast to its fantastically adorned, sister palaces on the hilltops of Sintra to the south, the Mafra Palace is scantily furnished as King Manuel II took many of the pieces of furniture and accoutrements to Brazil when the royal family escaped in the middle of the night from Ericeira when the monarchy was overthrown and the Republic was formed in 1910.

The palace tour starts in the King’s quarters in the north tower, winds you past and above the basilica, across an overlook of the church services below from which the royal family would attend and into the queen’s quarters in the south tower. The ceilings and walls are painted with frescoes and there’s plenty of marble to go around.

After passing the basilica below you pass through sitting, game rooms and a music room into a grand trophy room of past hunting successes en route to the queen’s chambers. The boars heads would surely give the babies in the next door nursery nightmares for a decade.

Your tour concludes in the section of the house that was used by the monks in simple (albeit ample) quarters and spills into their massive library of book lined walls from floor to ceiling. Some of the books here date back to the 15th century. Portugal’s libraries are something to behold. We’ve visited the one at the University at Coimbra and attended a candlelit concert of Beethoven (pre pandemic) in the library of the Academia da Ciencia in Lisbon. We have not yet been to the Lello Bookstore in Porto but it was among the inspirations for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. We’d read a review that the books in Mafra are being slowly chewed away by the rats in the library but, fortunately, can offer no visual confirmation of said atrocity.

We visited on a Sunday, when admission is free to citizens and residents, and while church was in. The bells were ringing from the church steeples (98 bells in the two carillons) welcoming us to our visit with open arms.

After our visit, we ate amongst cherry tomatoes, lettuce, mint and the locals at Adega do Convento down a quiet side street just about five minutes from the National Palace. It’s indoor dining room is rather plain and reminiscent of a sports bar in the US with its many TVs playing on the walls, but it’s outdoor courtyard dining area was great and its bar area with massive wine casks is quite something. The food was great too.

We capped it all off with a stroll through the gardens adjacent to and behind the National Palace.

We tried to go to the Tapada game park nearby afterwards, but were too late to catch one of the guided tour busses or trains to check out the antelope and wild boar (though we did catch sights of some from the parking lot area and on an unsanctioned and probably illegal trip up the dirt road, until we thought better of being unaccompanied with the wild boar and their sharp teeth). Next time (on the comboio)…

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