Here’s why the Mafra Palace will blow your mind and how to visit. This UNESCO World Heritage Palace near Lisbon is a fit for a King!
The Mafra National Palace is located 25 km (15.5 miles) north of Lisbon, in the quiet village of Mafra. This is one of the largest in the world and the most important building of baroque architecture in Portugal, inspired by the Papal Rome.
Visiting the Mafra Palace is like travel back in time and bring the past of the Kings, Queens and their courts to life. Not forgetting the charm of the beautiful Library, which is one of the most important in Europe.
For all this, and many others that you can discover in this post, be sure to visit the Mafra Palace, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
Importance of the Mafra Palace
The Mafra National Palace building has unique features, such as a large library from the 18th century, a unique set of six pipe organs, a hospital complex from the 18th century, two chimes that are the largest in the world, as well as important collections of Italian sculpture and Italian and Portuguese painting.
When we visited the building, we undeniably felt the opulence, dimension, architecture and ingenuity of the 18th century, of what was considered to be the best at that time.
This Palace is the most important building of Baroque architecture and one of the biggest royal works in Portugal, as well as one of the most relevant Italian Baroque sites found outside Italy.
The architectural complex includes not only a Royal Palace, but also a Basilica and a Convent.
It has a total area of about 40,000 m2 (430,556 ft2), with 1200 rooms (bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, etc.), connected by kilometers of corridors. The main corridor has 232 meters (254 yards) long (the largest in Europe).
Thus, this is a symbolic work, an international statement of D. João V, in a context of royal absolutism that centralized power in the figure of the King.
The monumentality of the building and the high quality of the works acquired in Europe were made possible mainly due to the wealth coming from the Portuguese Empire, such as gold and precious stones from Brazil.
How to visit the Mafra Palace: Highlights
The Mafra National Palace is huge, the itinerary to visit it is not linear and not all spaces are accessible to the public. But, we will help you by sharing what we have done.
The architectural complex develops from a central axis, namely the Basilica with the two bell towers.
On the main façade is the Mafra Palace flanked by 2 large turrets.
At the back is the Convent, next to the Jardim do Cerco (Fence Garden) and the Tapada Nacional de Mafra (Game Reserve).
=> Access the building through the north entrance (on Floor 0), between the North Tower and the grand exterior staircase in front of the main façade;
At the entrance to the Cloister and on the left are the Ticket Office (which sells access tickets) and the Shop (which sells replicas of pieces existing in the Palace and modern pieces inspired by them, such as porcelain, crystals, jewelry, as well as publications).
=> Then go up the inner staircase next to the 2nd Floor (Noble Floor) to visit the Royal Palace and a little of the Convent.
1) Royal PALACE
The Royal Palace was used by the Kings of Portugal, their family and guests, who came to Mafra to celebrate religious festivities or to hunt in the Tapada (Game Reserve).
The North and South Turrets make the main façade of the Palace stand out.
These two functioned as “independent apartments” for the King and Queen. While each turret had a kitchen in the basement, a pantry on the ground floor and dormitories for servants in the attic.
On the other hand, the princes had a mansion for themselves at the northeast end of the Palace and the princesses a mansion in the southeast area of the Palace.
The North and South Turrets are connected by a gallery of rooms with a 232 meter (254 yards) long corridor – the longest corridor in the European palaces!
=> After going up the aforementioned interior staircase, you reach the Noble Floor (2nd Floor) and start exploring the North Turret.
In the North Turret were the King’s private rooms.
Therefore, it had the kitchen in the basement, the pantry on the ground floor, the Chamberlains rooms on the 1st floor, the Royal lodgments on the Noble Floor (2nd floor) and the rooms of the servants in the attic.
At North Turret, the following stand out:
- Bedroom, with the King’s bed in the shape of a gondola, manufactured in France;
- Great Hall, with a painting in a huge canvas and the heater in polychrome Portuguese faience;
- Oratory (or King’s Chapel) and the paintings on the ceiling.
=> Then go to the Main Gallery.
The Front Gallery is a set of rooms located between the North and South Turrets (connecting the King and Queen’s quarters) arranged along a 232 meter (254 yd) long corridor – which is the longest corridor in the palaces in Europe.
We unexpectedly came to know that the Front Gallery was the Court Promenade. The Royal Court would rather prefer to stroll there than to stroll outside the Palace!
=> Let’s now start exploring the main rooms.
The Discoveries Room (or Portuguese Heroes Room) features paintings and decorations alluding to Portuguese discoveries, such as Vasco da Gama overcoming Adamastor (mythological character which is a personification of the Cape of Good Hope), Pedro Álvares Cabral discoverer of Brazil, as well as Cristóvão Colombo discoverer of America.
Hall of Destiny
The Hall of Destiny contains paintings that depicts the 1st King of Portugal, Dom Afonso Henriques, receiving the Book of the Country’s Destiny, surrounded by his ancestors (the King of France, Hughes Capet, and Count Henry of Bourgogne) and his successors until King D. João IV.
Room of the Goddess Diana
The room owes its name to the ceiling painting, that depicts the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana, with nymphs and satyrs.
This painting is by Cirilo Volkmar Machado, who was inspired by Domenichino’s “Hunt for Diana” in the Borghese Gallery in Rome.
It was in the Throne Room (or Audience Room) that official audiences were given.
Here, the beautiful decoration stands out, like the beautiful painting on the ceiling representing an allegory to “Lusitânia”, by Volkmar Machado.
On the walls are fresco painted figures representing the 8 Royal Virtues that the King should have, namely Perfection, Tranquility, Kindness, Knowledge, Generosity, Peace, Constancy and Conscience, by Domingos Sequeira.
The Guard Room (or Archers Room) was one of the main entrances of the Palace and that is why this place was where Royal Guard stood when the Royal Family were in the Palace.
On the ceiling there is a painting that depicts the legend of the Greek mythology of the “The fall of Phaethon”, by Volkmar Machado.
Located in the middle of the Palace, the Benediction Room features: on one side, a balcony on the façade facing the terrace in front of the Palace, from where the King could greet the people; on the other side, several windows facing the Basilica from which the Royal Family could attend religious services.
In this room there are several details of lioz stone (from Cascais, Sintra and Pero Pinheiro), as well as a marble bust of D. João V, by the Italian master Alessandro Giusti.
=> At the end of the corridor you’ll reach the South Turret
In the South Turret were located the Queen’s private rooms, with the kitchen in the basement, the pantry on the ground floor, the Chamberlains rooms on the 1st floor, the Queen and Ladies rooms on the Noble Floor (2nd floor), which contained, among others, the bedroom, a bathroom, a bathroom with bathtub, dressing room and private chapel.
At the end of the 19th century, the Royal Family started to inhabit just this South Tower (as it was warmer and more sunny), leaving the North Tower reserved for visiting guests.
=> Next there is another set of rooms that will take you to the Convent (with the Library).
King Pedro V’s Room
The King Pedro V’s Room (or Waiting Room or Red Room) was the place where guests waited before being received by the Royal Family in the Music Room.
The Music Room (or Yellow Room or Reception Room) served for the Royal Family to receive guests and came to replace the Audience Room in this use. In the Music Room you will find a Joseph Kirkman grand piano, with a curious shell-shaped bench and a Collard & Collard square piano. Both pianos were produced in England.
In this room there are portraits of Emperor Pedro II of Brazil and of D. Amélia de Beauharnais, (wife of D. Pedro IV) and Empress of Brazil and his daughter Maria Amélia.
In this room are some games used in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example Chinese billiards, the billiard table (also called Russians) and the top game.
Here you will find a large billiard lamp in iron and bronze made in France and two oil paintings “Vizela Bridge” and “Landscape with river bank”, by the Portuguese master painter Silva Porto.
The Trophy Room is decorated not only with furniture, but also with hunting trophies and deer stems (deer, fallow deer and wild boar from Tapada), according to the German taste of the time.
In the room there are hunting scenes, animals and flowers in two oil paintings, by Joaquim Rodrigues Braga, as well as a collection of glazed earthenware plates and ceramic tiles, by Ferdinand Coburg.
In the Trophy Room the Royal Philharmonic of Mafra used to perform while the Royal Family were eating in the dining room next to it.
Corridor with Knife Machine and Pantry’s Corridor
In the Corridor with Knife Machine and in the Pantry’s Corridor there are utensils to support the kitchen of the 19th century, namely a cast iron knife machine to sharpe and clean knives, made in England, a fountain and hand wash basin in Portuguese pottery, a silver icebox and a cupboard with glass and crystal set, French porcelain and Portuguese glazed earthward dinner services.
=> Now you will visit a little of the Convent.
Great Hall of the Friars
In the Great Hall of the Friars you will find both 18th century furniture and objects used in the Convent.
Highlighting a large oval table with wooden benches.
In these Friars Cells you can see 18th century furniture recreating the cells of the friars of the Convent.
Did you know that …?
The Mafra Palace had one of the first lifts in Portugal. It was ordered by Queen D. Maria at the end of the 19th century and was maneuvered by 4 men.
=> Meanwhile you will arrive at the Library, which is one of Mafra’s greatest treasures! We can only visit the entrance to the Library, which is open mainly to researchers, by appointment.
The Library is certainly one of the most important libraries in Europe in the 17th century, with a fabulous collection of around 36,000 volumes. In fact, most of them are leather bound and engraved in gold.
In the shape of a cross, the Library is 90 meters (98 yd) long and 13 meters (14 yd) high. The floor is made of Portuguese limestone lioz of different colors (pink, gray and white) and the shelves are made of wooden rococo style.
A Library is mainly a repository of knowledge from the western world from the 15th to the 19th century, as it incorporates masterpieces of great scientific and religious interest.
It also contains the “forbidden books” by the Inquisition, available here by Papal Bull, which prohibits the diversion and the loaning of printed or handwritten works existing in the Library without the permission of the King.
This Library brings together a set of precious and rare books, for example, a incunabula collection (books printed with the earliest printing techniques), a Paris plan in detail from 1734, a 1st edition of Gil Vicente’s Comedies, from 1561 (with the cuts of censorship), several Bibles, the first Encyclopedia (by Diderot and D’Alembert) and an important nucleus of musical scores written for the organs of the Basilica.
Did you know that …?
In the Library there are free flying bats, which serve to eat the insects preventing them from devouring the books.
=> Then you have to return to the place where you entered the Noble Floor, by going through the entire Main Gallery. Then go down to the 1st Floor to visit more of the Convent. In addition, certain spaces in the Convent can only be visited by appointment.
3) mafra Convent
Located in the rear area of the complex, the Convent was built for the use of friars of the Franciscan Order of the Arrábida Province, having been used for a period in the 18th century by the Augustinian friars.
After the extinction of religious orders in Portugal in 1834, the space began to be used by military units, now occupying part of the building.
The Convent had a small hospital, which in some aspects was a pioneer in hospital care in Portugal.
Thus, it had a patienc area, operating theaters and was open to people other than friars.
In addition, it had 3 “Nursing Infirmaries”: the Serious Condition Patients Infirmary, the Convalescent Infirmary and the Novices’ Infirmary.
The cloisters contained vegetation, lakes and fountains and served as a place for reflection.
Next to the building there was a Fence Garden (today Jardim do Cerco) with a large vegetable garden and orchards to supply the Convent and 7 playgrounds for the friars’ leisure (4 of ball games, 2 of ‘Jogo da Laranjinha’ – Portuguese traditional game, ‘laranjinha’ means little orange – and 1 of the ring game).
=> Cross the Religious Art Collection and arrive at the Friars’ Cells.
Here you can also see the cells that were used by the nursing brothers who took care of the sick in the infirmary.
In the Infirmary’s Kitchen, the stove chimney and the stone table stand out, sometimes surrounded by pots and pans, and sometimes by other kitchen utensils in copper and brass.
This kitchen was used to prepare meals (including diets) for patients and nursing brothers.
Here the products produced at the Convent (such as chickens, vegetables and fruits) were prepared, as well as products from abroad (such as cod, fresh fish, milk, chocolate, wine, black beer and sugar).
=> Head now to the Pharmacy.
In Dispensary (or Botica), not only medicines were prepared, but also stored for the Infirmaries, functioning as a pharmaceutical laboratory.
Under the command of the brother-apothecary were used plants, herbs and roots, as well as resin, honey, wax and other products harvested in the vegetable garden of Convent and Tapada (Game Reserve).
Here you can see the instruments and utensils from the 18th and 19th centuries used for this purpose, such as pots, pestles and mortars.
Serious Condition Patients’ Infirmary
This infirmary was intended for the seriously ill and is the only 18th century infirmary still in existence.
It is an example of good practice in caring for the sick, as it had functional spaces, hygiene conditions, proper food, modern medical supplies, nursing brothers and had daily assistance from an external doctor.
The Serious Patients’ Infirmary had 16 chambers lined with white tiles (for hygiene reasons).
Each room had a wooden bed (with straw mattress, cork shavings cushion, sheets and wool blanket), a small table (with cutlery and napkin), a hanger, a potty and a bench for visitors.
There was a hook where the doctor would hung the prescription, so that each nurse could follow the patient’s treatment instructions. The beds were facing the altar, so that the sick could attend religious services.
=> Next visit the Basilica. For this purpose, you have to go outside the building, returning from where you entered Floor 1 and go down to Floor 0, next to the Ticket Office, then go out onto the street.
=> Go up the grand staircase in front of the main façade to visit the Basilica and arrive at Galilé at the entrance.
4) mafra Basilica
The Basilica is located in the central area of the building and is flanked by two bell towers.
In fact, it was built in Italian Baroque style, in the shape of a Latin cross, 59 meters (64.5 yd) long and 43 meters (47 yd) wide (on the nave), with lioz stone from the region.
Galilee / Sculptures
The Galilee gathers most of the 58 beautiful marble statues of Carrara in the Basilica. These statues are from the best Italian masters, namely Carlo Monaldi, Giuseppe Lironi, Giovanni Battista Miani, Fillipo della Valle and Pietro Bracci.
As a result, these works are the most important collection of Baroque sculpture existing outside Italy. Previously, small models of the terracotta statues were sent for approval by the King, which can still be seen in the Palace.
=> Now enter the interior of the Basilica, where the Dome and the Pipe Organs stand out.
The Dome on the central ceiling of the Basilica, has 13 meters (14 yd) in diameter and is located 65 meters (71 yd) high.
It was the first dome built “in Roman style” in Portugal and is one of the largest in the world.
Six Pipe Organs
The Six Pipe Organs were designed to be played at the same time. Can you just imagine the resulting sound?
In fact, it is the only Basilica in the world with this sound equipment.
The Six Pipe Organs of Basilica were built in bronze and “pau-santo” (Brazilian exotic wood) in Lisbon, by the two most important Portuguese organ builders, Joaquim António Peres Fontanes and António Xavier Machado e Cerveira.
=> Outside, flanking the Basilica, are the two Bell Towers, which contains the Carillons.
The two bell towers stand out undeniably on the building’s façade. These bell towers are 70 meters (76.6 yd) high and contain more than a hundred bells that integrate the two carillons.
In addition, the north bell tower has 53 bells and the south bell tower 49 bells, for a total of 45,000 kg (99,208 lb) of metal (bronze). The heaviest bell, the hourly bell, weighs 12,000 kg or 26,455 lb (and the respective hammer 300 kg or 661 lb) and the lightest bells, the high-pitched bells, weigh 2.7 kg (6 lb).
The two carillons in the Basilica’s bell towers include 106 musically tuned bells.
The bells were cast in Liege and Antwerp in 1730 and as such constitute the largest set of carillons of the 18th century in the world.
These are concert carillons (with an amplitude of 4 octaves), which work through a system of wheels and machines.
The carillons can be played: either manually, using a special keyboard (played by a bell-ringer with hands and feet), or mechanically using 2 rotating bronze cylinders with pegs and levers.
Did you know that …?
It is said that when King D. João V ordered a carillon for the Basilica, when asked by the builder for an enormous amount of money, the King ordered another, saying “Since it is so cheap, I want two instead of one” .
History of Mafra Palace
To know a little more about the history of the monuments enriches our lives and the history of the National Palace of Mafra certainly deserved our best attention.
The Mafra Royal Convent (as it was initially called) was built in 1717 by King D. João V, on a personal vow written in 1711, but it doesn’t not mention the reason.
The King first planned of building a small convent for 13 Franciscan friars, then to house 40 friars, then 80 and ended up in 300.
Additionally he thought to join a large church, which turned out to be a Basilica and then added a Royal Palace.
Thus, this architectural complex became the largest Baroque construction in Portugal!
OTHER DETAILS OF THE HISTORY OF THE MAFRA Palace
The responsibility for this architectural complex was in the hands of Johann Friedrich Ludwig, of German origin, however with a background in architecture in Italy.
The building was richly adorned with Flemish tapestries, oriental rugs, rich furniture and murals paintings in several rooms.
However, part of the household items was taken by the Royal Family to Brazil in late 1807, before the arrival of the Napoleonic armies in Lisbon. However, this things did not return to Portugal, when the Royal Family returned in 1821.
The Palace was occupied by French troops from December 1807 and a few months later by English troops, who stayed there until March 1828.
It was in the Mafra Palace that the last king of Portugal, D. Manuel II, spent his last night before going into exile on 5/10/1910 (the proclamation of the Republic day).
On that day, the King sailed, along with his mother and grandmother, from Ericeira to Gibraltar and then to England, where he married 3 years later and left no offspring.
Did you know that …?
It is said that King D. João V had no children and was told that if a convent were built in Mafra, Queen D. Maria Ana of Austria would have a child!
But this cannot be true because when the King took the vow in 1711, they already had a daughter (Princess Maria Bárbara, future queen of Spain).
Eventually, the vow made by the King must have been related to have a son, which happened with the birth of D. José I in 1714.
Construction of the Mafra Palace
The construction of the Mafra National Palace has lots of interesting details that we now share.
By the way, in the book “Baltasar and Blimunda”, the Nobel Prize winning Portuguese autor José Saramago, talks about the building construction difficulties.
The Mafra National Palace covers an areas of about 4 hectares (430,556 ft2), has 1,200 rooms, 4,700 doors and windows, 156 staircases and 29 patios and halls.
The main façade is 232 meters (254 yd) long, the north façade 209 meters (229 yd) and the south façade 171 meters (187 yd) long.
The Portuguese limestone lioz used in the construction was extracted from Sintra, Pero Pinheiro and Cascais, of various colors, namely Negrais yellow, red, blue and black.
In addition, thousands of workers from all over the Kingdom collaborated in the construction, reaching 50,000 workers in the same year.
In the meantime, machines and cranes specific to the work were invented, from where huge stones were lifted with the help of up to 50 joints of oxen, in a huge building site located in Mafra.
Finally, the construction began in 1717 and on 10/22/1730 (the King’s birthday), the Basilica was consecrated, even tough it hadn’t yet been concluded.
CHOOSING THE BEST MASTERS of that time:
- Johann Friedrich Ludwig (in Portuguese, João Frederico Ludovice), directed the construction. He was a goldsmith and military engineer from Germany, but trained in architecture in Italy, who adopted a classic Baroque style inspired by Papal Rome. He was later replaced by his son;
- The painting collection includes works by foreign masters, namely Francesco Trevisani, Masucci, Conca and Quillard and the Portuguese André Gonçalves, Vieira Lusitano and Oliveira Bernardes, who were scholarship holders of the King in Rome;
- The statuary includes the most significant collection of Italian Baroque sculpture existing outside Italy, where the works of artists like Pietro Bracci, Carlo Monaldi and Filippo de la Valle stand out. In fact, these works served as a model for the training of Portuguese artists, such as the famous sculptor Machado de Castro;
- Famous artists such as Domingos Sequeira, Bernardo de Oliveira Góis and Cyrillo Volkmar Machado made the murals and ceilings in the rooms;
- The chimes had the contributions of Levache and Witlockx;
- The organs of the Basilica were the work of Peres Fontanes and Machado Cerveira;
- In addition to many others, such as engineers, architects, stone carvers, joiners, glaziers, workers, servants, etc.
Did you know that …?
The constructive experience at the Mafra Palace (the enormity of the work and the adoption of new processes) was undoubtedly very useful for the reconstruction of Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.
Tickets and Prices – Mafra Palace
For more information about visits to the Mafra National Palace, schedules and ticket prices, we recommend the official website.
Local: Terreiro D. João V – Mafra – Lisboa
How to get to Mafra
where is Mafra
From Lisbon, Mafra is 25 km (or 15.5 mi) to the north, in other words, if you are in the Capital very quickly you can visit this village and its magnificent Palace. See below for tips on how to get from Lisbon to Mafra.
Mafra is close to the coast, 10 km (or 6 mi) from the beaches of Ericeira, the latter being famous for surfing.
If you are in Sintra or Cascais / Estoril, Mafra is 25 km (or 15.5 mi) and 35km (or 21.7 mi) away, respectively.
From Óbidos to Mafra is 70 km (or 43.5 mi).
To mafra by car
From Lisbon: Calçada de Carriche => A8 (Leiria / Loures) => Exit 5 => A21 (Ericeira / Mafra / Malveira) => Exit 3 (Mafra-Este / Sintra) => N116 (36 Km or 22.4 mi, 0h30)
TO MAFRA BY BUS
From Lisbon: Campo Grande Station => Mafra Bus Stop (Convent) (0h50, operator Mafrense: Timetable)
TO MAfra by Train
From Lisbon: Rossio Station => Mafra Station (1h00, CP operator: Timetable)
What to do in Mafra
VISIT THE Jardim do Cerco (fence garden)
The Jardim do Cerco is a fence garden with 8 hectares, adjacent to the National Palace of Mafra. Its first name was Cerca do Convento (convent fence), with a vegetable garden, a orchard, several water tanks and ball games fields for the friars recreation.
Subsequently, King D. João V ordered the plantation of numerous trees.
In this place you will find a beautiful baroque garden, arranged in terraces with geometrically designed flower beds, as well as a small garden with beds of aromatic herbs.
As a whole you can see plants of various colors and of great beauty, emanating pleasant aromas.
If you like nature, Jardim do Cerco is undeniably the ideal place to visit!
Local: Largo General Humberto Delgado (next to Mafra National Palace)
Visit the Tapada Nacional de Mafra park
The Tapada Nacional de Mafra is a game reserve that was created by King D. João V, in the 18th century, with the aim of meet the needs of the nearby Mafra Convent and National Palace and to serve as a leisure park and game reserve for the Royal Family, in a total of 1,200 hectares.
In Tapada, you can mainly enjoy the tranquility of nature and see the animals living outdoors. Children and adults can do trekking in the park walking trails, use a bicycle or the mini-train, with or without the help of a local guide.
You can also take night tours.
In fact, the Tapada Nacional de Mafra is a good place to go for a walk with your family near Lisbon and take great photos!
Local: Codeçal, 8 km (or 5 mi) from Mafra
Visit the Museum-village of José Franco
In the village of Sobreiro (between Mafra and Ericeira), José Franco, one of the most famous Portuguese potters, born in 1920, built a typical mini-village with a lot to see.
Certainly, inspired by his visits to the Mafra National Palace, master José Franco was taken with the idea of molding unique clay figures, with festive and rural details.
Free of charge, you can visit the tiny village-museum, between houses and “labyrinthine” spaces, which portray both professions, objects and living in the old Portuguese villages.
In addition, there is always bread with (or without) chorizo and freshly made sweet fritters!
Local: Sobreiro, 13 km (or 8.1 mi) from Mafra
Ericeira is a great place for strolling by the sea, enjoying the boats of the fishermen or walk about in the narrow streets of this beautiful village.
Next, you can also visit the World Surfing Reserve Interpretation Center next to the Tourist Office.
Local: Ericeira, 24 km (or 14.9 mi) from Mafra
Accommodation in Lisbon Region
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Places to visit in Lisbon
- Lisbon: Ultimate Travel Guide and Itineraries
- TOP 10 Lisbon Attractions: Best Places and Activities
- 6 Best Day Trips around Lisbon: explore more of Portugal
- TOP 5 Cool Shopping Ideas in Lisbon
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