The Sintra Mountains are also known as the Mountains of the Moon after their Roman name Lunae Mons. Sintra is a legendary and delightful place, located just a short distance from Lisbon. It has been and still is the favourite mountain retreat for the inhabitants of Lisbon during the hot days of summer. It is such a magical area that over the centuries it has inspired artists across the globe.
The mysterious ruins of an ancient monastery made a strong impression on King consort Ferdinand II (1816-1885), who was an art collector, opera lover and maecenas. He bought the Pena (meaning rock or boulder) as the monastery was known, as well as the nearby Moorish Castle and large plots of land surrounding both. He built a grand and colourful palace on the ruins to create a summer retreat for the royal family. After the death of his wife Queen Maria II of Portugal, Sintra became more and more important for Ferdinand. Late in his life he found new happiness with the opera singer Elisa Hensler, Countess of Edla (1836 – 1929). The couple kept a low profile and spent most of their time in Sintra. The estate and especially the gardens were their great passion. The Countess had a chalet built that was covered in cork, a low-cost but beautiful local material. The couple created fairy-tale like parks using the existing rocky features with wonderful follies and exotic species of trees. The ideas behind the parks of the Pena were very influential on European landscape design.
After Ferdinand II’s death the Countess sold the palace to King Luís. In 1889 Pena was purchased by the Portuguese State. After the Republican Revolution of 1910 it was transformed into a museum. The palace would become one of Portugal’s most visited monuments. In 1995, the palace and the rest of the Cultural Landscape of Sintra were classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
It is still a delightful paradise, combining landscapes and gardens with palaces and country houses. Sintra is one of the biggest cultural heritage destinations of the country with over a million visitors every year.
Sintra is even making a healthy profit and every year new projects are undertaken to keep Sintra at the top of everyone’s list. The Mountains of the Moon will enchant visitors for many generations to come.