Sintra is a town that's had two "Golden Ages," nearly a thousand years apart. They have left Sintra with so many things to visit that it is not only one of Portugal's biggest tourist attractions but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Starting in the 8th century, Moorish conquerors of the Iberian peninsula began fortifying the mountain pass above Sintra as a defense not only against Christian forces bent on retaking the area but also against rival Moorish forces. At times, they even relied on Christian nobles to support them in these struggles.
From the 11th century on, when Christian nobles conquered what is now Portugal and installed the first King of Portugal, the fortifications were extended, and churches and a monastery were added to the fort and further up the hill. But as first Coimbra and then Lisbon became the centers of Portuguese power, Sintra became more of a backwater, although some new churches and other buildings were added.
But in the 18th century, when the railroad made the town, only about 30 km west of Lisbon, easy to reach, it became a summer magnet for wealthy families, and for Portugal's royal family itself. New chalet and lodges sprang up in the town and in the hills, and the royal family began the conversion and extension of a monastery high above the "Moorish Castle" as a summer residence.
The castle, known as the Pena National Palace, is lavish, and reminds many people of King Ludwig's fantasy castles in Bavaria and the Cinderella castle modeled on them. But for the Portuguese royals, the fantasy didn't last long. They had barely completed their plans when they were overthrown in the 1908 revolution. Portugal became a republic, and within months the Pena Palace was opened to the public. Together with the Moorish Castle and the Sintra National Palace in the town itself, it is administered by the Sintra-Cascais National/Nature Park.
Well worth a visit, but plan your time carefully! Because the area around Sintra has become a residential area for Lisbonites, the commuter rail line and the highway can be crowded; in fact the highway has been noted as Europe's most congested. Fortunately, you can plan to be moving against the rush hour.
Sintra's Town Hall
The town itself has many shops featuring everything from craft jewelry to junky souvenirs (something for everyone!) There are also restaurants of all kinds--but we were fortunate to find, by accident, the small cafe across from the railroad station. It features inexpensive and well-cooked meals, including this classic and traditional Sopa Alentejana. If it looks good, the recipe was linked to this Gumbo Picture of the Day.
Following are some more pictures...Enjoy!
Standing at the highest point...
Seen from below, from the Moorish Castle
Above, the Royal Bath;
Below, a weird one. Plaster wall hand-painted to look like cheap plywood paneling.
The royal switchboard, around 1900
As with every house, maintenance is never-ending!