National Palace of Queluz, Portugal

The Palace of Queluz is a Portuguese 18th-century palace, a freguesia of the modern-day Sintra Municipality, Located between Lisbon and Sintra, the National Palace of QueluzOne of the last great Rococo buildings to be designed in Europe, and leading examples of the rococo and neoclassical architectural styles from the second half of the eighteenth century in Portugal.

Commissioned in 1747 by the future King Pedro III, married to Queen Maria I, the residence was initially designed as a summer house and thus a favoured place for the royal family’s leisure and entertainmen. It served as a discreet place of incarceration for Queen Maria as her descent into madness continued in the years following Dom Pedro’s death in 1786. Following the destruction by fire of the Ajuda Palace in 1794, Queluz Palace became the official residence of the Portuguese prince regent, John VI, and his family and remained so until the Royal Family fled to the Portuguese colony of Brazil in 1807 following the French invasion of Portugal.

Work on the palace began in 1747 under the architect Mateus Vicente de Oliveira. Despite being far smaller, the palace is often referred to as the Portuguese Versailles. From 1826, the palace slowly fell from favour with the Portuguese sovereigns. In 1908, it became the property of the state. Following a serious fire in 1934, which gutted one-third of the interior, the palace was extensively restored, and today is open to the public as a major tourist attraction.

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The public façade of the palace faces directly onto a town square and takes the form of two low, symmetrical, quadrant wings which flank the forward-reaching wings of a small central corps de logis, thus forming a semi-circular cour d’honneur. The southern of the two quadrant wings is terminated by the onion-domed chapel, while the northern wing contained the kitchens and servants’ quarters. The only decoration comes from the simple classical pediments above the windows. This façade, that most readily seen from the town, presents a decorous and impassive public face with one of the most architecturally severe elevations of the palace

The interior of the palace received no less attention to detail and design than the exterior. French artisans were employed to decorate the rooms, many of which are small, their walls and ceilings painted to depict allegorical and historical scenes. Polished red bricks were frequently used for the floors, for a rustic appearance as well as coolness in hot weather. The many tall pavilions which link the various lower wings of the palace allow for a series of long low rooms broken by higher and lighter rooms. A predominant feature of the interiors is the azulejos: polychrome glazed tiles, often in a chinoiserie style with tones of blues and yellows contrasting with muted reds. Materials for use on the interior included stone imported from Genoa and woods from Brazil, Denmark and Sweden, while coloured marbles were imported from Italy.

Grandiose meeting rooms, places for worship and private rooms follow on from each other in an intimate interconnection with the gardens as a fundamental part of these pleasure-inducing surroundings. Along the spectacular Lions Staircase, by the french artist Jean-Baptiste Robillion, we arrive at the monumental Tiled Canal with its great panels depicting seaports and courtly scenes. The garden pathways are enlivened by the italian and british sculptures, in their main with mythological themes, and highlighting the set of lead sculptures by the London-based artist John Cheere alongside the numerous lakes and other water features.

One wing of the palace, the Pavilion of Dona Maria, built between 1785 and 1792 by the architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa, is now a guest house allocated to foreign heads of state visiting Portugal.

The evolution of the Court taste throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, strongly influenced by French and Italian as well as English taste, is particularly presented in the Palace interiors, historical Gardens and collections.

In 1957, the “Dona Maria Pavilion” in the palace’s east wing was transformed into a guest house for visiting heads of state. Today the palace’s principal rooms are therefore not simply museums, but the setting for official entertaining.

The National Palace of Queluz is recognition by UNESCO, in 1995, of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra as a World Heritage Site.

In the 21st century, the palace gardens, once an irrigated oasis in the centre of parched farmland, are bounded by the “Radial de Sintra” motorway which feeds traffic towards Lisbon and away from Sintra. However, transportation and tourism have been the saviours of the palace. Since 1940 it has been open to the public as a museum. It houses much of the former royal collection, including furniture, Arraiolos carpets, paintings, and Chinese and European ceramics and porcelain.