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Exploring the Palace

Palácio Nacional de Queluz, Largo do Palácio, 2745-191 Queluz (tel. 21/434-38-60; www.ippar.pt/monumentos/palacio_queluz.html), on the highway from Lisbon to Sintra, shimmers in the sunlight. It's a brilliant example of the rococo in Portugal. Pedro III ordered its construction in 1747, and the work dragged on until 1787. The architect Mateus Vicente de Oliveira was later joined by the French decorator-designer Jean-Baptiste Robillon, who was largely responsible for planning the garden and lakeside setting.

Pedro III had adapted an old hunting pavilion that once belonged to the Marquis Castelo Rodrigo but later came into the possession of the Portuguese royal family. Pedro III liked it so much that he decided to make it his summer residence. What you'll see today is not what the palace was like in the 18th century; during the French invasions, almost all of its belongings were transported to Brazil with the royal family. A 1934 fire destroyed a great deal of Queluz, but tasteful and sensitive reconstruction restored the lighthearted aura of the 18th century.

Blossoming mauve petunias and red geraniums highlight the topiary effects, with closely trimmed vines and sculptured box hedges. Fountain pools on which lilies float are lined with blue tiles and reflect the muted facade, the statuary, and the finely cut balustrades.

Inside you can wander through the queen's dressing room, lined with painted panels depicting a children's romp; the Don Quixote Chamber (Dom Pedro was born here and returned from Brazil to die in the same bed); the Music Room, complete with a French grande pianoforte and an 18th-century English harpsichord; and the mirrored throne room adorned with crystal chandeliers. The Portuguese still hold state banquets here.

Festooning the palace are all the eclectic props of the rococo era. You'll see the inevitable chinoiserie panels from Macau, Florentine marbles from quarries once worked on by Michelangelo, Iberian and Flemish tapestries, Empire antiques, Delft indigo-blue ceramics, 18th-century Hepplewhite armchairs, Austrian porcelains, Rabat carpets, Portuguese Chippendale furnishings, and Brazilian jacaranda wood pieces -- all of exquisite quality. When they visited Portugal, Presidents Eisenhower, Carter, and Reagan stayed in the 30-chambered Pavilion of Dona Maria I, as did Elizabeth II and the prince and princess of Wales. These fabled chambers are said to have reverberated with the rantings of the grief-stricken monarch Maria I, who reputedly had to be strapped to her bed at times. Before becoming mentally ill, she was an intelligent, brave woman who did a great job as ruler of her country in a troubled time.

The palace is open Wednesday to Monday 9am to 5pm. It's closed on holidays. Admission is 5€, free for children under 14.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.