Mafra, Portugal. November 2019

Mafra is a city and municipality in the district of Lisbon, on the west coast of Portugal, 40 kilometres north of the city of Lisbon. It is known for the Palácio Nacional de Mafra. Built in the 18th century by order of King João V to honour a vow he made, to be blessed with an heir from his marriage to Maria Ana of Austria, or be cured of a serious illness. The Royal Convent and Palace of Mafra is the most important baroque monument in Portugal.

It was from this palace that the last king of Portugal, Manuel II, left for exile on the 5th October 1910, following the proclamation of the Republic. Declared a National Monument in 1910, the Royal Palace opened as a museum in 1911 as Palácio Nacional de Mafra. It was added to UNESCO World Heritage in July 2019. Unfortunately the weather was so awful the day we visited I couldn’t get a photo of the outside of the building, so I have used the photo above from the site.

The royal basilica is known for the quality of its pink and grey marbles, and has one of the world’s largest domes. It contains eleven chapels and six Baroque organs which were built to be played at the same time.

Using limestone and marble from the region, the building covers an area of almost four hectares. At one point there were 45,000 men working on the construction, several artists came from abroad, and 7,000 soldiers managed the workforce. The palace has 1,200 rooms, 5,200 doorways, 2,500 windows, 880 halls and rooms, 154 staircases and 29 courtyards. Such magnificence was only possible due to the Brazilian gold that poured into the country, allowing the King to carry out his patronage of the arts and the strengthening of royal authority.

The extravagant rooms of the royal apartments are furnished with exceptional pieces of 18th-century furniture and paintings. There are very long walkways, with the king’s apartments at one end of the building and the queen’s apartments at the other, 250 meters apart. A room filled with antlers, has a chandelier made of antlers and upholstery made from animal skins. If you look at the photo of the ‘antler sofa’ it has a badgers head in the centre of it, presumably this was a must for all good antler sofas of the time, and who wouldn’t want a boars head staring at you when you looked in the mirror!

The 83 meter long, barrel-vaulted library, one of the finest in Europe, is decorated with marble and exotic wood. It contains 36,000 books, including the earliest edition of Homer in Greek, and an as yet uncounted 100,000 plus, 15th to 18th century books, many hand bound by monks.

With the weather too awful to wander around we went to Ericeira, for lunch. A traditional fishing village, with picture postcard houses, Ericeira is a ten minute drive from Mafra, its beaches are very crowded during the summer, and are considered among the best in Europe for surfing. Ribeira d`Ilhas Beach, is where one of the World Surfing Championship contests is held every year. We had the most delicious fish for lunch, and thankfully the rain had stopped when we came out of the restaurant.

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