The Cultural Landscape of Sintra
In pre-modern times, the region was known as the Mountain of the Moon and linked to prehistoric religious practices. This has been proven by various archaeological finds such as the Tholos do Monge (large burial tombs found up on top of the hills), Bronze Age pieces found in various parts of the town or the Penha Verde Calcolithic settlement. Later the region went onto be conquered by the Romans with the São Miguel de Odrinhas Archaeological Museum providing a good record of their legacies.
In the 15th century, along with alterations made to the Palácio da Vila (Town Palace) by king João I, Sintra became the summer destination of choice for the nobility and bourgeois. The Palace itself was to subsequently undergo various alterations with each monarch adding a little something more. The Palace thus represents a unique sample of 15th and 16th century architectural and decorative styles. Work carried out during the reign of king Manuel (1495-1521) was the most significant. The tiles of that period transformed the decorative impact of the palace and are now considered to one of the finest examples of Iberian Mudéjar tiling. The enormous cylindrical palace chimneys, dominating their surroundings, are the defining landmark for this town.
However, Sintra's defining era proved to be the 19th century when it was swept up in the Romantic movement. Dating from this period are the Pena Palace, the Monserrate Palace, the estates Quinta da Regaleira and Quinta do Relógio, among others. Each represents a good example on how Romantic inspiration came to endow an environment of mystery and magic. Much of this came about due to the influence of a Bavarian prince Fernando de Saxe Coburgo-Gotha, prince consort to queen Maria II (1826-53). A great innovator and admirer of the modern and everything artistic, he allied such tastes with an admiration for nature setting about rebuilding parks and gardens incorporating whatever revivalist architectural styles then in vogue. The building of the Pena Palace (in 1836) out of an old, ruined Order of São Jerónimo monastery is one of the defining landmarks of this artistic movement combining in a single construction the most important features from the history of Portuguese architecture. Thus, go and marvel at the fantastic interpretations of the Gothic, Manueline, Mudéjar, among many others.
Thanks to the very peculiar characteristics of the Serra de Sintra microclimate, abundant greenery thrives with many local species standing next to far more exotic cousins from far off lands. Sintra is home to some of the most beautiful parks in Portugal and all with a very Romantic influence. The parks are staged to feature small ponds, nooks, false caves and secret paths leading harmoniously through the thick foliage. 19th century revivalism was to profoundly change the Sintra landscape turning it into a place of unrivalled beauty and heritage.