Sintra is a town located within the Lisbon region. It is a large draw for tourists to Portugal, thanks largely to the plentiful 19th century Roman architecture lining its provincial streets. It makes a wonderful day trip for anyone visiting Lisbon.
With a wonderful view of the Sintra Mountains and easy access to the Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, Sintra was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. This means it is truly something exceptional and worth preserving for future generations. Beautiful estates, gorgeous castles, charming private homes and public buildings dating from the 8th century to the 19th are all part of the landscape of Sintra. Lovers of history and lovers of architecture will both find much to adore about this unique and cherished Portuguese town.
The town has records dating back to the 700s. These records show a rich history of Muslim architecture at the time. Once brought into the Christian world in the 1500s, it became a home for churches of renowned magnificence and splendor. It has also been the scene of some political events of importance to Portuguese history. The Convention of Sintra was signed there in 1808 to formally end the French invasion of Portugal. Mostly, however, Sintra is known for its beauty. This extreme abundance of beauty makes tourism Sintra’s primary industry.
While Sintra has a Natural History Museum to interest visitors, most people come for the architecture. It is one of the most architecturally renowned towns in the world. Its Roman architecture from the 19th century had a great influence on buildings in other European cities at the time. Its carefully cultivated landscaping compliments the buildings beautifully and incorporates local plants in ingenious ways. The landscaping of the town is as well-kept today as it was two centuries ago, as the people of Sintra take great pride in maintaining the impeccable reputation of their town’s appearance.
The beauty of Sintra starts with its natural surroundings. The town has a flat landscape that is punctuated by the view of the Sintra Mountains and the high point of the Crux Alta. The natural landscape itself includes an enticing mixture of natural forest, pinewood groves, and olive groves.
Man-made parks and gardens are also part of the natural landscape of Sintra. The Parque de Pena, which was made in 1840, is one of the oldest and best-known of these. There is also the Garden of the Camellias and the English Garden to enjoy. Many of the town’s palaces also include planned gardens that visitors can enter and experience. Some of these gardens are postcard-perfect and a good number of them are surrounded by semi-natural oak forests to add contrast to the careful landscaping designs.
The town’s famous bevy of buildings sits among this intriguing landscape and adds to its beauty. While most of the oldest buildings in town were destroyed in a 1755 earthquake, a few older military buildings, churches, and palaces still survive.
It would take a whole book to list and describe every famous building in Sintra. In fact, other than the newer residential homes, it seems as if almost every building in the town is famous for something. The buildings run the gamut of design, from the extreme asceticism of the Convento dos Capuchos monastery to the elaborate Moorish castle at the Tapadado Mocha that is surrounded entirely by an enchanting stone wall.
The central architectural attraction of Sintra, however, is the Royal Palace. This is located in the center of town so it can’t be missed by any visitor. It was built in the 15th and 16th centuries and is noted for its intricate tiled decorations. Second only to the Royal Palace in magnificence and artistic preservation is the Pena Palace. This palace is located on a high geographical point in town so it is very visible from nearly anywhere in the area. It was built in the 19th century as an example of fine Romantic architecture. It contains a church and cloister within its walls and both are noted for their rich antique decorations.
Other well-known buildings in Sintra include the Palace of Montserrate, the Quinta da Penha Verde, the Palace of Ribafrias, the Palace of Seteals, the Quinta de Regaleira, the Town Hall, and the Trinity Convent of the Arrabalde.
The oldest building in Sintra that is still standing is probably the Moorish Castle. Its exact date of construction is unknown, but it was definitely being used in the 9th century during the time the Moors occupied Portugal. It was abandoned when the Portuguese retook the country from the Moors, but it has stood the test of time. Though it is mostly in ruins, its walls and keep are still clearly visible and give a tantalizing idea of what a Visigothic castle on a windy, rocky outcropping would have looked like in the pre-Medieval period of Portuguese history.
Sintra has much to offer the modern visitor. A historic city living very much in the present, it is an intriguing blend of both the ancient and modern worlds. One can easily visualize the Sintra of the past while walking its storied streets, while still enjoying the conveniences and security of the present day. It is a look into the past without actually traveling through time. Visitors to Lisbon should not miss Sintra. It is an experience they will never forget and always hold dear.