We stumbled upon the Palacio Nacional da Ajuda quite accidentally while sightseeing in Lisbon. Although we were originally looking for a different place, we were both very happy to end up here and eager to explore.
It was a hot and sunny day. One of those summer days that are too hot to be outside, yet perfect for enjoying the beauty of Lisbon. After walking up a massive hill in the burning sun, we were both feeling a bit exhausted. We were drawn to this massive building before us that seemed to appear out of nowhere, hoping to get out of the heat.
History of the Palacio Nacional da Ajuda in Lisbon
The Palacio was a royal palace of Lisbon until it became a museum. While used today to host major state events, its history is filled with unfortunate events and circumstances that played a role in what this building is today.
In 1755, an earthquake and a tsunami hit Lisbon and destroyed their residence. This forced the royal family to look for a better spot to build a royal residence. Enter this site, chosen due to its location on a hill. Unfortunately, the original place was destroyed by fire in 1795. The library and the chapel were the only parts that survived.
They started rebuilding shortly after, with many prominent architects, painters and the like taking the lead on the project. Many of them had different visions for the palace, which extended construction. Political unrest and financial problems also played a role in the delay.
By 1812, the royal family fled to Brazil and the invading French armies halted its construction. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that this place was doomed from the start. Gotta admire their dedication.
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. That’s a lot of years in the making!
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. All in pretty good condition. All the years invested in building this place seem irrelevant once you see the final product. I’ve been to many royal residences in the past. Most of these places are rather difficult to imaging living in, especially without modern conveniences. This one, however, is not only in great condition, but also feels quite homey.
The palace has many fancy room, all stunning and beautiful in their own right. One of the rooms, I believe known as the Winter Garden is exactly that. It actually feels like you are in a garden with its own fountain. If that wasn’t impressive enough, there is also a fancy toilet imported all the way from England! It looks pretty modern, although I’m not sure if it still works. Ha! The private rooms are all located on the first floor, while the official state rooms 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 intended on purpose. To that I must say, mission accomplished.
It’s actually quite easy to get here if you plan ahead. The palace is on top of the Calçada da Ajuda street, which connects Ajuda to Balem. Right outside is a bus stop that takes you right into the centre of Lisbon. There is also ample parking nearby.
Ticket are 5 € per person and totally worth it. The last admission is at 5 pm so plan ahead as the visit can take up couple of hours.
Have you been to Lisbon? What are some of your favourite places to visit? Let me know!