The Palácio de Mafra (Palace of Mafra) is just plain amazing. It consists of the palace, as well as the Convento de Mafra (Mafra Convent), the Basílica de Nossa Senhora e de São António and a magnificent library. This incredible building, a monument to baroque architecture, is one of the largest buildings constructed in the early 18th century, and is a candidate for classification as a UNESCO sight.Mafra, a town of about 11,000, lies about 25 miles from Lisbon, with the huge Palácio overshadowing the town. The King João V, financed the construction of the Palácio de Mafra, with the gold flowing in from Brazil. The construction began in 1717, by royal decree, and was completed in 18 years (only the palace), employing between 15,000 and 45,000 workers.
The Palácio consists of 1,200 rooms, more than 4,700 doors and windows, and 156 stairways. That same influx of gold allowed the King to order sculptures and paintings, vestments, etc., from all of Europe, to adorn the buildings. King João V, was married to Queen Mary Anne of Austria, but for three years no healthy children were born. In thanks for having a health heir, María Bárbara (later queen of Spain), the king vowed to construct a great monastery; they went on to have a further 6 children. Even with the Brazilian gold, the Palácio still almost bankrupted the state. It is truly an amazing structure.
The Palácio surrounds a lovely interior courtyard, which includes some birds of prey (they can barely be seen on their perches on the left side of the picture on the left). There are two towers that house a set 120 bronze bells, that may be divided into three distinct groups: the hour bells, liturgical bells and the carillons. The two sets of hour bells are the largest bells in the world, from the 18th century. The liturgical bells are made up of eleven bells and the two carillons are made up of 92 bells, constitute the largest historical collection in the world. They are considered concert carillons, covering a range of four octaves. The bells ring every Sunday, in unison with the integrated set of six
organs in the Basílica. The organs are set to play in different keys and it is said the cacophony can be heard for 15 miles (24km). The Basílica de Nossa Senhora e de São António (The Basilica of Our Lady and St. Anthony), is built in the form of a Latin cross. The Basílica, was consecrated on 22 October 1730, the king’s birthday, though the complex was not yet completed and the workforce had to relocate after the earthquake of 1755 (there it is again!).
The interior of the Basílica has wonderful architectural details,
including some lovely statuary and spectacular Baroque bas-relief.
Visit the Palácio, if for no other reason than the library. It is absolutely one of the most significant Enlightenment-era libraries in Europe, and is also the largest room in the palace. It houses between 30,00 and 40,000 volumes, from the 15th to 19th centuries, including some books of great scientific interest, and one of the few that foresaw the incorporation of the “forbidden books”. Fun fact: They’ve been using bats to control silverfish! No kidding. They release bats at night, about 500 small one-inch long bats, then recapture them in the morning. We didn’t see any scat, which I guess must need to be cleaned up every morning…Who knew bats were for more than flying around The Goddess’s belfry?
The Convento de Mafra was the home of the Franciscan monks of Arrábida Order, with about 300 cells. For twenty years, near the end of the 18th century, this monastery was occupied by the Hermit Friars of St. Augustine. Now you can wander through the infirmary and into the kitchen…love those copper pots. The Hunting Park of Mafra (Tapada), was created in 1747 to serve the needs of the convent and as a game reserve for the monarch and his court.
There are some interesting “trophies” in a couple of rooms in the palace. I think it’s safe to say they are really quite surreal, but incredibly interesting. So that was our day time in Mafra. Back we go to Lisbon, but tomorrow is another adventure…stay tuned.