The Ajuda National Palace, once a home to the Portuguese royal family, is definitely one of Lisbon museums worth visiting. Overlooking the city from a hill top position, it is a stunning building with an even more impressive collection inside. It’s also away from the hordes of tourists in other parts of the city.
We stumbled upon it quite accidentally as our intent was to go elsewhere. Since it was a hot and sunny day, we were both happy to go inside and explore. I must say, we were both glad we did. After all, who doesn’t love to tour around a royal home? Castles, palaces and mansions are some of my favourite places to visit. They also provide an insight into how the rich and powerful used to live.
The Ajuda National Palace was a royal residence before it became a Lisbon museum. Today, many major state events still take place here, which speaks to its importance. The Palace’s history, full of unfortunate events and circumstances that played a role in what this building is today, is also, what makes it fascinating.
In 1755, an earthquake and a tsunami hit Lisbon and destroyed the previous royal residence. This forced the royal family to look for a better and safer spot to build a new home. The spot on the Ajuda hill offered safer location for what became the Ajuda National Palace.
Unfortunately, the fire in 1794 destroyed the original wooden structure, only sparing the library and the chapel. Rebuilding with stone and mortar started shortly after. Many prominent architects, painters and the like taking the lead on the project, including Manuel Caetano de Sousa, Francisco Xavier Fabri and José da Costa e Silva. Different visions for what style the palace should involve extended construction. Political unrest and financial problems also played a role in the delay.
By 1812, the royal family fled to Brazil to avoid the invading French armies, which halted the construction. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this place was doomed from the start. You have to admire the dedication to the project despite the obstacles.
As the royal court returned to Lisbon in the early 1820s, the project was still underway. Around 1826 there was some interest into making this an official royal residence, but it didn’t become a permanent one until 1861 when Luis I became king.
The Ajuda National Palace is an impressive building. However, the initial vision to create one of the largest European palaces with gardens to match was much grander and ambitious. In fact, the project was never finished, which is hard to believe as you tour inside it.
The royals that made the Ajuda National Palace
After Luis I and his wife, the Italian princess Maria Pia di Savoia moved in, they spent lavishly on furnishing and decorating. Inside you will find silk wallpapers, crystal chandeliers, expensive porcelain and intricately carved furniture.
There is an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures and other art. There are many extravagant rooms, all stunning and beautiful in their own right. One of the rooms, known as the Winter Garden is just an example of how far you can stretch your imagination. There is a fountain in the middle, giving the room a courtyard-like feeling. The room was once filled with exotic flowers and greenery as well as live birds. You can still see the cages they once occupied.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, there is also a fancy toilet imported all the way from England! It looks modern, although I’m not sure if it still works. It was one of the first toilets so of course it also caused a lot of talk in those days.
The private rooms are all located on the first floor, while the official staterooms are on the second floor. The opulence of the throne room and the dining room is the most impressive. Both have the power to awe anyone walking in, as I imagine was their intent. Believe me when I say mission accomplished.
The role of the Ajuda National Palace as a royal residence ended in 1910 with the end of monarchy itself. With the royal family in exile, the palace closed down until it reopened as a museum in 1968.
From a palace to one of greatest Lisbon museums
The Ajuda National Palace is one of the most important of Lisbon museums. It represents the cultural and historical past of Portugal and more specifically, Lisbon. Here you will find many Portuguese historical pieces, making it one of the most important Museums of Decorative Arts.
It’s a glimpse into the past and into the lives of Portugal’s royal family. Each room is decorated with many original items used by the family. You can get a feel for what being a royal was like and imagine their daily routines.
I’ve been to many royal residences in the past. Most of these places are rather difficult to imagine living in, especially without modern conveniences. This one, however, is in great condition and feels quite homey.
The palace is also home to the Ajuda Library, the Paintings Gallery of King D. Luis I and the office of the Secretary of State for Culture. Official state ceremonies take place here as well. It’s definitely thrilling to know that you are standing it a room where heads of state also stand if they are attending a function here.
Arts and architecture
If you love architecture and arts, the Ajuda National Palace is definitely the place for you. The palace’s neoclassical style is a photographer’s dream. Grandeur of scale with simple geometric forms is at its finest here. Arches, columns and windows are the background to the exquisite décor.
As many royal homes, this one is filled with stunning chandeliers, tapestries and furniture, decorated with the finest works of art, mirrors and frescos. The Throne Room and the State Dining Rooms are definitely worth drooling over.
Although the Ajuda National Palace is not in the centre of tourist activity, it’s easy to get here. The palace is not far from the Balem Tower, on top of the Calçada da Ajuda Street. Right outside is a bus stop that takes you right into the centre of Lisbon. There is also ample parking nearby.
By car: Follow 24 de Julho from Lisbon towards Belem. Turn and go up the Calçada da Ajuda for approximately 1km.
By public transport: Bus lines stop right in front of the main entrance. The bus lines are at 18; 729; 732; 742; 60.
By train: Best stop is Belem Station.
What you need to know
Thursday to Tuesday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Last entry at 5:30 p.m.
5 € per person/kids 14 and under free
free Sun until 2pm for Portuguese citizens/residents only
free admission on the first Sunday of each month
Wednesdays and January 1st, Easter Sunday, May 1st, July 13th and December 25th
Suggested length of visit
1 hr 45 min
This information may change. Consult the Ajuda National Palace website before heading to the venue.
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