This vast 18th Century Baroque construction encompasses a Royal Palace, a Basilica and a Convent. It is home to important collections of Italian sculpture, Italian and Portuguese paintings, a unique library, two 68metre-tall bell towers, six organs and an 18th-century hospital. It was founded on the order of King D. João V and his queen, Dona Maria Ana of Austria, to satisfy a vow made in 1711 and to give thanks for the birth of their first child. The royal couple endured three years of being childless before making an oath to build a great monastery at Mafra if they succeeded in producing an heir. So in 1717 AD, on the day of the birth of their daughter Dona Maria Pia, the first foundation stones were laid.
It was designed with an obsessive use of geometry and symmetry over a total area of 40,000 sq. metres (48,000 sq. yards). The footprint is a near square at 251 metres (825ft) long by 221 metres (725ft) wide. It has over 4,500 windows and doors throughout 1,200 rooms connected by over 150 flights of stairs. The building is faced with locally quarried Lioz Dourado stone. The whole complex was designed to impress and surpass all other such buildings that came before. It is a superlative example of Baroque opulence that boasts the wealth and power of the Portuguese crown at the time. It was financed by gold that poured into royal coffers from Brazilian mines. Despite this great influx of wealth, King D. João V almost bankrupted Portugal with his ambitious architectural works, such as the one at Mafra.
The original plans drawn up by the German architect Ludwig were, in comparison, quite modest before the King decided to pull out all the stops and spare no expense. The Italian architect Frederico Ludovice added an Italian feel to the design. During the height of construction, there were over 15,000 masons, craftsmen, sculptors and the like working on the project. It's rumoured that a garrison of 6,000 troops was camped onsite to ensure law and order. Although the majority of construction was completed by 1730 AD work would continue until 1755, five years after King D.João V death, when the devastation wreaked by the Great earthquake required as many workers as possible to rebuild Lisbon.
Although only designed as a summer residence, nothing less than 666 rooms would do for the comfort of royal living. As a pious couple, the King and Queen had separate quarters, in two large pavilions that occupy the front corners of the palace. The towers are set 220 metres apart, with a church in the centre. Joining corridors allowed the royal couple to observe church services without having to leave their royal chambers.
Great works of art decorated the royal residences featured many commissioned pieces of art by mainly Portuguese, Italian and French artists, including Cirilo Volkmar Machado and Domingos Sequeira. With the approach of Napoleon's troops, the royal family made a speedy departure from the Palace to Brazil, taking most of the valuable furnishings and works of art with them. However, there remains many considerable pieces. Mafra continued as a Royal residence right up until the end of the Portuguese monarchy, and it was in Mafra where King Manuel II, the last king of Portugal, spent his last night before leaving for exile in 1910.
The consecration of the Basilica occurred on the 22nd of October 1730, the King's 41st birthday. Unique organs were created by António Machado Cerveira and Peres Fontanes. A restoration process started in 1994 until they were finally heard played together for the first time on the 15th of May 2010. In addition to the organs, Mafra has a set of two carillons consisting of forty-nine bells in each housed on either side of the main façade. In the main chapel, a painting by Francesco Trevisani represents the Virgin, Jesus and St. Anthony, to whom the church is dedicated. The marble retables of the side chapels, Holy Family (south) and Blessed Sacrament (north) and the six collateral chapels are attributed to Alessandro Giusti from the Mafra School of Sculpture. The Basilica's other highlights are the ensemble of statues made by Italian masters, the most significant collection of Baroque Italian sculptures outside Italy.
Initially designed to home only 13 monks, Mafra's project experienced successive changes, ending in a huge building of approximately 40.00 m2, with all the facilities for 300 Franciscan monks. The King ensured the support of the convent by financing the project from his own treasury. Monks were given alms twice a year, at Christmas and at St. John's day. The alms consisted of tobacco, paper, linen and burel cloth for the habits. Each brother received two habits that he had to wash and mend himself. 120 wine barrels, 70 olive oil barrels or 600 cows, for instance, were spent each year in the Monastery.
Nearby was the fenced garden, with an orchard, several water tanks and four ballgame fields for the monks' recreation, one for the ring game and two to play a traditional game called "laranjinha". In the early 19th century, during the Peninsular War, the convent was occupied by French troops and later by British allied troops. After the dissolution of the religious orders in Portugal, on 30th May 1834, the Monastery was allocated to the army. Today it remains the headquarters of the School of the Arms. Visitors can visit the Cemetery Chapel and the Infirmary, besides the Chapter Room, the Literary Acts (Examination) Hall, the La Lys staircase and the Refectory.
Occupying the eastern wing of the Mafra complex is the impressive 83-metre main room of the extensive library, easily Portugal's most important monastic/royal library from the 18th century. Monks from the Convent of Arrábida organised the 40,000 volumes, or so, into a collection that survives to this day. The valuable collection includes 16th, 17th and 18th-century books, many of which are extremely rare, such as the 22 foreign incunabula like the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), and other precious books such as the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum by Ortelius (1595) and the Diderot et d'Alembert biographie. Also, a nucleus of scores from musicians such as João de Sousa Carvalho or Marcos Portugal, composed expressly to be played on the Basilica's six organs.
Just like the Joanina Library at Coimbra's University, there's a colony of bats who live in the library and whose job it is to keep insect damage down to a minimum. These busy bats are let out every night and can eat up to twice their body weight in insects. This natural form of pest control has been in place for over 300 years. Each night, workers cover the "bufets" (credenzas) with sheets of leather. Every morning the library is cleaned of bat guano. Wednesday - Monday: 09h00 - 13h00/14h00 - 18h00, Tuesdays: CLOSED.
Adult: €6.00, Child under 6: FREE, Lisbon Card: FREE
Campo Grande (Mafrense)
Five miles north of Mafra is the former Royal Hunting grounds, which are now a place of relaxation and conservation. The 819-hectare estate was created in 1747 to serve the needs of the Palace, the royals and courtiers. It was a favourite playground for King Carlos before he succumbed to a bullet. Nowadays, it is a place with significant biodiversity, including rare species of flora and fauna spread over a varied landscape. Living within its vast forested areas are various species of deer, wild boar and even the elusive Iberian lynx. The park is laid out with a series of walking paths, mountain bike trails and a host of activities for the public to enjoy. Also found within the grounds are the remains of defensive walls and ruined forts known as the Linhas de Torres, built during the Napoleonic Wars to defend Lisbon.
Weekdays: 09h00 - 17h00, Weekends: 09h00 - 18h000.
Located within the old town is a charming 13th-century gothic church that has been sensibly restored recently. Inside the Church of Santo André are the tombs of Dom Diogo de Sousa and his wife. Archaeological excavations have discovered that, in the 17th century, it was subjected to alterations, as exemplified by the construction of the domed roof. However, by the end of the 19th century, it had become derelict. Restoration work started in 1903 which continued until 1930. Five years later, the Church of Santo André was recognised as a national monument.
Praça do Município, 2644-001, Mafra, Portugal.
38° 42' 29.8"N | 09° 08' 21.7"W | +351 261 810 100
Since 1987 the Iberian Wolf Recovery Centre (IWRC) has been a sanctuary for this unique breed of wolf, which has seen its natural habitat disappear dramatically over the last few centuries. The 17-hectare park provides its resident wolves with the best available care, the IWRC aims to create awareness of the wolf in its natural state and in captivity. During the visits, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the Iberian wolf: the biology, ecology, behaviour and pack life, as well as the threats which face this elusive predator. The enclosures that the wolves occupy are large and densely vegetated, therefore their observation is not guaranteed. The IWRC is open to the public for guided visits on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays. All visits are subject to booking. The visits are made on foot through the public portion of the sanctuary and take about 90 minutes.
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays: High Season: 16h00 - 20h00, Low Season: 14h30 - 18h000.
This holiday home is set in a central location within Mafra town, Vila Mafra - Grill Terrace offers several townhouses, each with free WiFi, seating areas and a flat-screen TV. All units include a kitchen, a living room, a private bathroom and a terrace with views of the garden. A dishwasher and oven are also provided, as well as a coffee machine. In the garden, you can find barbecue and garden furniture for your comfort. The Palace is within a stone's throw, as are many amenities, including restaurants, cafés and supermarket.
11C Rua Domingos Dias Machado, 2640-534 Mafra, Portugal. | 38º 42' 19.4" N | 09º 23' 42.7" W
This homely and friendly guesthouse is a short distance from the centre of Mafra and the Palace. Every room has free WIFI and satellite TV. There are double rooms with private bathrooms, whilst others need to share. A generous breakfast welcomes each guest in the morning. There is easy parking right outside the house.
13 Rua Pedro Julião, 2640-518 Mafra, Portugal. | 38º 56' 11.34" N | 09º 20' 13.3." W
Quinta do Brejo – Turismo Equestre is a farm with stables. It's surrounded by lush vegetation five and a half miles from Mafra. The Quinta comes with free WiFi access. Set within an inviting rural setting, a stay here is an ideal opportunity for relaxing and enjoying a spot of horse riding. Quinta do Brejo is comprised of typically Portuguese cottages with all the necessary commodities for an enjoyable stay. Its proximity to the sea lends it a natural beauty, which is characteristic of the region. A continental breakfast is served each morning. Guests can have horse riding lessons on-site, and the natural surroundings of Quinta do Brejo provides a beautiful setting for a walk. Ericeira beaches are a 20-minute drive from this farm, and Malveira Train Station is a five-minute drive away.
Rua Mestre Nuno Oliveira, Avessada, 2665-402 Santo Estevão das Galés, Mafra, Portugal.
38º 54' 48.15" N | 09º 15' 59.53" | +351 913 075 026
A small traditional Portuguese restaurant close to the Palace. The staff smiles are just as generous as their portion sizes yet surprisingly good value considering the location. Ignore the grumpy expression of the cockerel on their logo, I guess he didn't have a good morning.
Monday - Saturday: 11h00 - 15h00/18h30 - 22h00, Sundays: 11h00 - 15h00
13 Rua Primeiro de Dezembro, 2640-454 Mafra, Portugal. | 38º 56' 18.4" N | 09º 19' 41.1" W
+351 261 812 328 | Website
After walking around the Palace and Convent, you may feel you've burned up enough calories to be able to afford something naughty… if so, head straight to Fradinho. Their signature pastry is the Fradinho which is thought to have some connection with the convent at the palace, it acquired its name from the bakery's founder; Francisco Fradinho. In addition, there is a large selection of cakes and pastries on offer and good coffee to boot. The friendly staff are more than happy to advise and make suggestions.
28-30 Praca da Republica, Centro, Mafra 2640-525, Portugal. 39º 39' 33.8" N | 08º 49' 28.3" W
+351 261 815 738 | Website
Authentic Japanese cuisine in the heart of Mafra. The sushi and sashimi are excellently prepared and presented using only the finest fresh ingredients. The menu is varied and the staff are very friendly.
Daily: 12h30 - 15h00/19h30 - 23h00
Rua Serpa Pinto 19, Mafra 2640-534, Portugal. | 38º 57' 0.0" N | 09º 19' 59.9" W
+351 261 853 562 | email@example.com | Facebook
Mafra is 35.5km (22 miles) North West of Lisbon Portela Airport
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Mafra is 40km (25 Miles) North of Lisbon via the A8 and 14 Miles (22km) North of Sintra via the N9.
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Mafrense buses run hourly from Lisbon, from Sintra train station and Ericeira: Website