Ajuda National Palace in One Word: Opulent!

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was jaw-dropping the whole way through…

The Palácio Nacional da Ajuda (National Palace of Ajuda) is under active restoration and renovation. The work is focused primarily on the west wing, which includes the Throne Room and Ballroom, a real disappointment, but honestly, and based on what we saw, I don’t think my eyeballs could have handled any more! (I pulled the image of the Throne Room above from the Internet.) If you are drawn to a contemporary, modern, or minimalist aesthetic, gird your loins. This one is going to push you to your limit.

Let’s get the basics out of the way – Ajuda is pronounced ahzshooda (a soft “j” sound). And, once again, the history of this edifice is fascinating – and rather involved. Here’s a very condensed summary.

In the first half of the 18th century, King João V planned to build a summer residence on a hill in Ajuda, a civil parish and district of Lisbon. The building of the Royal Palace, however, would take place only after the massive Earthquake of 1755 which destroyed much of Lisbon, including the royal residence. On King José I’s initiative, the Royal Palace of Ajuda was built on the grounds acquired by his father firstly as a wooden building – commonly known as the Real Barraca (the Royal Hut) which burned to the ground in 1794 – and then as the Palace as it is today.

The original architectural style was Baroque, but was soon replaced by the up and coming Neoclassic style taking over Europe at the time. Even though the first stone was laid in 1795, construction didn’t start until 1802. Then the Royal Family had to leave Portugal and went to Brazil in 1807 which slowed construction during the first half of the 19th century. It wasn’t until 1861, after the proclamation of King Louis I (1838-1889) and his marriage to the Princess of Savoy, Dona Maria Pia (1847-1911), that the Ajuda Palace become the official residence of the Portuguese Monarchy.

Most of the Palace interiors were designed by Queen Maria Pia and her architect, Possidónio da Silva. Dona Maria Pia lived in the Palace from the day she became Queen of Portugal, in 1862, until the Republican Revolution in 1910, when the royal family was forced into exile.

In its prime, balls and several ceremonies were held in the Palace rooms which became the center of the Portuguese court in the 19th century. The Palace was closed after the proclamation of the Republic in 1910 and reopened to the public in 1968 as a museum. The Palace holds important collections from the 15th to the 20th centuries and is still used by the Portuguese State for official ceremonies.

The Palace is not only a museum, it also houses the Ajuda Library (former royal library), the Painting Gallery of King Luís I (the sovereign’s private collection) and the State Secretary for Culture in the north wing. The fourth floor of the south wing houses the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

Here is an aerial view I pulled from the Internet. Not the best clarity, but it was the best I could find. As you will note, it has a somewhat similar footprint as the Mafra Palace which I wrote about in this post, however, it is much smaller and does not include a basilica like Mafra. Regardless, it is impressive in its own right.

The following are images I took of the exterior. The clock and bell tower shown below are not attached to the palace, but is free-standing nearby.

The center courtyard of the Palace, which you can see in the aerial image above, was under reconstruction and blocked from view when we were there, however, the porte cochere you enter through in the center front is amazing. It is filled with beautiful statues set into niches and dedicated to virtues such as justice, humanity, godliness, honesty, decorum, prudence, gratitude, providence, generosity, etc. Here are some images I took of the porte cochere and a few of the statues within.

Check out the size of Justice’s feet above. Presumably they are that large so she can stomp out injustice. You go girl! And I absolutely love that Humanity is gently holding the paw of a sweet little dog to demonstrate that specific virtue. And Generosity, it seems, really lives into her virtue – she gave her right arm to someone in need (or perhaps that lion got hungry?). Yikes!! All kidding aside, each statue certainly deserves study and reflection. The symbols used to represent each virtue is thought provoking and inspiring.

The ticket office is situated in the Sala dos Archeiros (Archers Hall) and named so because it was occupied by the guard of honor when the Palace was in use. It is the first interior room you experience and, what you don’t realize at the time is, this room sets the tone for the opulence that follows. Here are a few images of Archer’s Hall. And be sure to look at the detail on the exterior door. Beautiful! Of course, the ceiling in this room and every room that follows, is a piece of art in and of itself. The entire time we were in the Palace we never saw any other visitors, only a few staff members placed sporadically throughout who, we suppose, were keeping an eye on us. Most of the time we were by ourselves.

The entrance fee was €5,00 per person. Masks were required as was the use of hand sanitizer, but I honestly can’t remember if they took our temperatures. It’s becoming such a commonplace experience I don’t even think about it anymore.

As you move from Archer’s Hall and further into the Palace you are immediately presented with a beautiful corridor that runs along the front of the building. The Palace is designed with interconnecting halls. Every surface is decorated and embellished in some way. It is visually overwhelming, but also oddly cohesive.

Immediately to your right is the Usher’s Room. This room is where visitors were checked in and out of the Palace. The Usher noted each visitor’s name, the purpose of their visit, and what items they were carrying. The painting on the ceiling represents Justice and Divine Grace repelling Ignorance. The room is filled with tapestries, paintings, red velvet curtains, and decorative items.

The very next room is the Grand Waiting Hall, which was called the Sala das Tapeçarias Espanholas, because of the three Spanish crystal chandeliers that were installed on the occasion of the marriage of Luís I and Maria Pia of Savoy. On the semi-vaulted ceiling is an allegorical mural representing King João IV’s departure for Brazil and his return to the kingdom. The room includes eight Spanish tapestries of different sizes and depicting various scenes.

From there we passed through the Salinhas dos Cães (The Hounds’ Room). Ministers and counselors of State would wait in this antechamber before being summoned by the King to deal with State affairs. The ceiling depicts Diana The Huntress.

All of this sumptuousness still didn’t prepare me for what was to follow. As you round the corner and into the Audience Room, this is what you see!! The description provided on a sign in the room states the following: “Imbued with an air of stateliness, this was the room where the King dealt with affairs of State. Audiences took place on Thursdays.” It’s nearly impossible to draw your attention to any one thing given the splendor of the space, but one thing I remembered was that the table top is covered in red velvet.

In the last image above, you are standing in the Audience Room looking down a long corridor. As you move forward, you will pass through a small space with two matching inlaid chests. This discreet antechamber is called the Sevres’ Vase Cabinet Room. It marks the transitional space between the official rooms of the palace and the private accommodations of the royal family. From this point on, this becomes the King’s wing followed by that of the Queen.

The very next room is the Sala de Música (Music Room). The room is done in tones of sepia, white and gold, with eight medallions representing the arms of Portugal, the Dukes of Braganza and crosses of the military orders. The walls are covered in pink silk and the floor is parquet. This room was very important to the daily life of King Luís I and the Queen. King Luís was a baritone and enjoyed singing. He would also accompany the Queen with his cello while she played the piano. It’s rather charming to see the family photographs displayed on the piano. In this room, the ceiling is not painted, but no less dramatic and beautiful.

The very next room is the Quatro de Dom Luís I (the King’s Bedroom). Until 1888, the King’s bedroom used partition walls to create space for an antechamber, a bathroom, study, bedroom, and dressing room. The room is covered in wood paneled wainscoting painted in white and gold. It remains one of the few rooms in the Palace painted in its original un-restored wall colors. The ceiling depicts an allegorical representation of Peace by Cyrillo Volkmar Machado that includes mythical figures and flowers in each corner. The main ceiling is designed as a fanciful open-air cupola. Statues stand in the window niches on the opposite wall from the bed. The room includes paintings of many of the Portuguese monarchs including a full-size painting of King Carlos of Portugal.

The very next room, called the Sala Azul (Blue Room), belonged to the King’s suite of rooms and was decorated with tapestries produced by the Real Fábrica de Santa Bárbara de Madrid with designs by Francisco de Goya. The tapestries were a gift from Spain in 1785, in honor of the royal wedding of Prince John VI and Carlota Joaquina. The room is currently undergoing renovation, therefore the tapestries are stored for the time being. It is fascinating to see how much work goes into restoring these buildings. And yet, in the midst of all that upheaval and work, there are two of the sweetest statues of children tucked into the window niches.

The very next room, which was also a part of the King’s suite, is called the Gabinete de Carvalho (Oak Cabinet Room). The design of this chamber was meant to evoke the years the King spent as a Naval commander, which is reflected in the painting of his favorite ship as well as the oak carvings of prows and sterns in the ceiling cove. It was used as a smoking room.

That room leads directly into the Sala de Mármore (Marble Room) also known as the Jardim de Inverno (Winter Garden). According to 19th century tastes, having a conservatory was considered compulsory. It symbolized the taming of nature and brought into the home. In addition to Portuguese marble, the room also uses stone gifted to the Royal Family by the Portuguese Egyptian viceroy, including alabaster and marble used on the walls and floors, and agate and chalcedony on the ceiling. Lovely decorative wrought iron screens incorporating leafy vines cover both window niches.

Intermission. Feel free to take a bio break. Be sure to grab a snack and a beverage. There is more to come and you’ll need to be in tip top shape to power through. It’s really worth it because there are some amazing things coming up.

Rested, recharged, and ready to go?! Great!

We are now entering, what I have dubbed, the Rainbow Gauntlet. It is a series of fabulous rooms all named after the primary color they each reflect. We start with the Sala Cor-de-Rosa (Pink Room). The room, swathed in pink silk, was specifically created to display the Queen’s porcelain collection and German figurines as well as a rare set of furniture painted in pink or covered in pink velvet. The ceiling depicts Portuguese and Italian landscapes.

From the Pink Room, we pass into the Sala Verde (Green Room) clad in green silk. It has a white painted ceiling with golden elements, decorative paintings (including a large 1876 portrait of the Royal Family by Joseph Fortuné-Séraphin Layraud), green drapery and a parquet floors in a geometric design. This was a private room, used by the Queen to conduct official duties or receive visitors. It was also the room where she gave birth to Prince Carlos (later King Carlos of Portugal) on 28 September 1863. The gilded, arched doorway from the Pink Room into the Green Room is spectacular.

A small antechamber to the left, known as the Sala Encarnada (Red Room), had multiple functions over the years such as dressing room, oratory, work and reading room. The silk damask lining the walls includes the mottoes of the Houses of Savoy and Braganza. Today the room displays various portraits, busts, a chest of drawers and writing table with a velvet top. The ceiling is silver leaf with gold accents.

At this point you might be wondering what happened to the Quarto da Cama da Rainha (Queen’s bedroom)? Fear not! It’s up next and it’s stunning. The room was decorated in the Napoleonic-style of 1861, which was popular in Europe at the time, and includes walls in blue silk with a silver pattern. The ceiling is painted with allegorical depictions of Esperança and Caridade (Faith, Hope, and Charity), as well as a figure of John the Baptist. The floor is covered in carpet with a polar bear hide. The King commissioned furniture from Paris in 1861 to furnish the Queen’s bedroom in the Napoleon III style. The room’s decor is appropriately grand, with the bed raised on a platform and surmounted by a canopy. The room has remained almost untouched since 1861. All rooms on this side of the palace enjoy views of the Tejo river.

The Queen’s suite of rooms includes a toucador (changing room and toilette). The original carpeted space from the Queen’s bedroom extends to this room and includes a large three-pane standing mirror, fireplace, chest of drawers and commode. It is decorated in rich brown with gold trim. There are paintings of Diana, Juno, Venus and Minerva over the doorways. I learned that the actual bathroom, more practical than decorative, includes painted moldings and rich wood trim. It includes a bathtub, double lavatory, double sink and bidet, which were all hygienic innovations that came from England around 1880. The addition of the bathroom took place when hot running water was installed in the Palace during a modernization phase.

I am going to skip the Queen’s chapel, which was rather dark and austere and the King’s Painting Gallery which really deserves to be seen in person and go straight to the Casa de Jantar da Rainha (the Queen’s Dining Room).

A private dining room was never planned in the 1802 design of the Palace, but by 1880 there was a need for a communal space. The final room was decorated in red silk and rich wood grain trim from floor to ceiling. Opposite the table is the entrance to the Billiard Room with raised bunk sofas against the walls. The closeness of the rooms is by design. King Luís I liked to play billiards after dinner. The floors of both rooms are inlaid parquet with a bronze luster and the wood design of the ceiling in the Billiards room is worth noting. On your way to the dining room, you pass by lovely sets of dishware on display.

I can’t help myself; here’s a quick peek at a portion of the King’s Painting Gallery…

When the King and Queen were hosting galas at the Palace, guests would enter through this vestibule, which served as the main entrance for grand receptions. Guests would leave their carriages, pass under a wrought iron structure, and enter the Palace between two rows of archers in English-style uniforms of red coats with gold galloons.

After entering through the vestibule, guests would then ascend the main staircase to the second floor of the Palace by way of the spectacular Escadaria Nobre (Noble Staircase). The enclosed staircase is decorated with flourish carvings on the walls and ceiling from the lower floor all the way to the upper landing, which is decorated with rounded stained glass panes depicting the royal coats of arms and another beautifully painted ceiling.

We turned left at the top of the stairs and came upon the Sala Chinesa (Chinese Room), which isn’t filled with Chinese artifacts, but Japanese. As it turns out, King Luís I wanted to create a proper display chamber for the presents he received from the Taikun of Japan. While most works are Japanese, the room was presented as “Chinese,” a synonym for all things oriental at the time. The ceiling is clad in natural silk creating a tent-like effect.

As you pass through the Chinese Room you come to the Sala Império (Imperial Salon), with wainscoting painted in pinky-beige and walls covered in silk. The ceiling has ornate motifs and a meandering frieze, while the floor is covered in inlaid parquet. The watercolor box of carved ebony was offered to the Princess Maria Pia of Savoy on the occasion of her marriage to King D. Luís by the city of Turin, Italy. The watercolor box is in this room temporarily while the room where it would normally be found undergoes renovation.

The next room is called the Sala do Retrato da Rainha (the Queen’s Portrait Room) because it holds the State portrait of Queen Maria Pia at the age of 33, dressed in blue and white, the colors of the Portuguese Monarchy. The ceiling depicts Peace repelling Discord.

The rooms closest to the Throne Room (which was closed due to renovation) were reserved for diplomats. This room, the Sala dos Senhoras do Corpo Diplomatico, was intended for diplomat’s wives. The ceiling is a painting of the exaltation of Miguel I. The tapestries in this room are huge.

Sala do Corpo Diplomático (Diplomatic Corp’s Room), was used for visiting ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corp, who waited in this room before being presented in the Throne Room. Three of the walls have tapestries with royal coats of arms. Chairs are upholstered in white silk and accented in gold. Alongside this room is a small antechamber where visitors could wait as their name was presented to the monarchs, before appearing in the Throne Room.

As mentioned, the Sala do Trono (Throne Room) as well as the Sala da Baile (Ballroom) were closed for renovation so off we went to see the next room, which literally made me gasp when I saw it. The grand dining hall, Sala da Ceia (Supper Room), used for state dinners and ceremonial events (such as the acclamation of Miguel as King and the wedding of Carlos and Amelia of Orleans), is a long hall that includes two long tables for visitors with a main table for the Royal Family intersecting the other two. The room seats 180. The ceiling is painted with a tribute to John VI, depicting a sun chariot with Apollo, encircled by the Horae (hours), months, seasons, and other allegorical figures. The room is illuminated by three large bronze crystal chandeliers and has an upper gallery for musicians who would play for guests and diplomats. A State dinner was held here for Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 and is still used by the President of the Republic to host banquets.

We left the Palace via a different, but equally lovely staircase with another stunning ceiling, marble parquet floors, decorative golden plant stands, and coats of arms in glass panes. The path routed us back through Archers’s Hall and out via the lovely carved doors through which we entered, what feels like, more than 150 years ago.

What an incredible trip back in time. I’m sure there are more beautiful, more opulent palaces in Europe we have yet to see and experience, but for now, this was very special, particularly because we were able to wander through pretty much on our own. We never saw another visitor. Absolutely amazing.

Here’s one more peek at that Throne Room! Wow…

If you would like to see the Ajuda National Palace when you come to visit, please let me know. I still need to see the Throne Room (in person!), the Ballroom, the Blue Room, the King’s Office, the Library, the King’s Painting Workshop, and a few others that were being renovated. Until then, please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay in touch!

From Portugal with love,

Beth

Published by Beth Thomas-Kim

After working in corporate America for companies like Mattel, Nestlé, and Johnson & Johnson, I retired and moved to Portugal in January of 2020 with my husband Won and our 12-year old wire fox terrier, Sweet Pea. We now live in Monte Estoril, a lovely seaside town just outside Lisbon. We spend our days happily exploring this beautiful country and learning about its fascinating history, engaging culture, warm and welcoming people, delicious food and wine, and stunning architecture. This blog was started primarily as a way to keep family and friends updated on our transition from the US to Portugal. Now, my subscribers include people from all over the world. Enjoy!

7 thoughts on “Ajuda National Palace in One Word: Opulent!

  1. I know what to put on my list of things to see next time I’m in Lisboa. Opulent, sometimes gaudy, but awe-inspiring none-the-less. Thanks for sharing the experience and history!

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  2. What a feast for the senses. I had to absorb it in 3 installments to finish. How did I miss this when I was in Lisbon for 4 days? Maybe the natives take some of their history for granted; the concierge did not promote this to me – what a missed opportunity!

    I appreciate that you provide a correct pronunciation guide – it seems there are a lot of “zsh” sounds. Somehow I find I think I sound like Zsa Zsa Gabor when I say Portuguese words out loud-, which doesn’t make sense.

    The Humanity sculpture with the attention to detail of the little dog shows such tenderness & love. Again we see the beautiful ceilings; it seems no surface escapes the artistic touch.

    Hey, I want my waiting rooms to be like the Usher’s Room – even if I still have to read 2 year old Popular Mechanics magazines, it’ll make the time pass more pleasantly (once we have the “pleasure” of sitting in office waiting rooms after the pandemic).

    The main take away I gathered is the King wanted to impress and show the power & wealth of the country to all those with who came to court. It certainty would impress any foreign royal or diplomat.

    The details in the Pink Room are very interesting, especially the “drum” or vase pictured on the left. The designs seem to use both Asian and Greek themes: the cut outs seem Chinese and the dark square shaped lines evoke Greek themes. I guess everyone borrows from cultures what they like? The Japanese artifacts in the “Chinese” room are a surprising find in all this – perhaps to show how worldly Portugal was, having settlements in Macau in the 1500s.

    Just fascinating.

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    1. Leslie…you always amaze me at your attention to detail!! A kindred spirit for sure. I suspect the objective of all kings is to impress whomever comes in contact with them or their palace(s). I’m sorry you missed the Ajuda National Palace when you were here last. I highly recommend it when you come the next time. I laughed when I read your comment about reading this post in four installments!! LOLOLOL! I guess one intermission wasn’t sufficient. It took me four days to write it, I suppose it would take about four days to read it too. 🙂 I’m so happy you are enjoying these. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about Gardens, Poets and Ruins (last week’s post). I’m on to this week’s post. And, it’s all about our road trip to the Algarve. We just completed day 1 and we are having a wonderful time. I’m going to start writing about it now. Take care and please stay safe.

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  3. One happy result of this horrible pandemic is that you had this place basically to yourself. When we toured the Palace at Versailles we were shoulder to shoulder with other tourists, which definitely reduces the enjoy,ent!

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    1. I hear you. That happened when we were in Austria in 2019 in a non air conditioned building in July. Groan. Oh, and I just remembered that that was the case when we visited the Biltmore Estate just outside Asheville in North Carolina. It’s certainly more fun and less stressful when you can see and appreciate these historic sites with less people. It’s just too bad that the reason was a global pandemic. 😔

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