Palace of Mafra

Palácio Nacional de Mafra

( Palace of Mafra )

The Palace of Mafra (Portuguese: Palácio de Mafra), also known as the Palace-Convent of Mafra and the Royal Building of Mafra (Real Edifício de Mafra), is a monumental Baroque and Neoclassical palace-monastery located in Mafra, Portugal, some 28 kilometres from Lisbon. Construction began in 1717 under King John V of Portugal and was completely concluded in 1755.

The palace was classified as a National Monument in 1910 and was also a finalist in the Seven Wonders of Portugal. On 7 July 2019, the Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden and Hunting Park (Tapada) was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Scale model of the Royal Building of Mafra in the palace museum.

The palace, which also served as a Franciscan friary, was built during the reign of King John V (1717–1750), as consequence of a vow the king made in 1711, to build a convent if his wife, Queen Mariana,[1] gave him offspring. The birth of his first daughter the Infanta Barbara of Portugal, prompted construction of the palace to begin. The palace was conveniently located near royal hunting preserves, and was usually a secondary residence for the royal family.

The construction was funded in large part from the proceeds of the colonies in Brazil, where gold and then diamonds were mined in vast quantities.[2]

This vast complex, largely built of Lioz stone, is among the most sumptuous Baroque buildings in Portugal and at 40,000 m2, one of the largest royal palaces. Designed by the German architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig (João Frederico Ludovice), the palace was built symmetrically from a central axis, occupied by the basilica, and continues lengthwise through the main façade until two major towers. The structures of the convent are located behind the main façade. The building also includes a major library, with about 30,000 rare books.[3][4] The basilica is decorated with several Italian statues[5] and includes six historical pipe organs[6] and two carillons, composed of 98 bells.[7][8]


The exact site was chosen in 1713 and purchased in 1716. Construction began by the laying of the first stone on November 17, 1717, with a grand ceremony in the presence of the king, his entire court and the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon.

Floorplan of the palatial complex.

Initially it was a relatively small project for a friary of 13 Capuchin friars, who were to observe strict poverty. However, when the flow of gold and diamonds from the Portuguese colony of Brazil started to arrive in Lisbon in abundance, the king changed his plans and announced the construction of a sumptuous palace[9] along with a much enlarged friary. This immense wealth allowed the king to be a generous patron of the arts.

King John V of Portugal, constructor of the palace.

He appointed an architect João Frederico Ludovice as director of the royal works at Mafra. Ludwig had studied architecture in Rome and knew contemporary Italian art. The extent of Ludwig's responsibility is unclear, as several other architects were involved in this project: the Milanese builder Carlos Baptista Garbo, Custódio Vieira, Manuel da Maia and even his own son António. However the application of the same architectural style over the whole building suggests the work of Ludwig as the head-architect in charge of the Royal Office of Works (Real Obra).

Construction lasted 13 years and mobilized a vast army of workers from the entire country (a daily average of 15,000 but at the end climbing to 30,000 and a maximum of 45,000), under the command of António Ludovice, the son of the architect.[10] In addition 7,000 soldiers were assigned to preserve order at the construction site.[11] They used 400 kg of gunpowder to blast through the bedrock for the laying of foundations. There was even a hospital for the sick or wounded workers. A total of 1,383 workers died during the construction.[12]

The facade is 220 meters long. The whole complex covers 37,790 m2 with about 1,200 rooms, more than 4,700 doors and windows, and 156 stairways.[13][14]

When complete the building consisted of a friary capable of sheltering 330 friars, along with a royal palace and a huge library of 30,000 books, embellished with marble, exotic woods and countless artworks taken from France, Flanders and Italy, which included six monumental pipe organs and the two carillons.

The basilica and the convent were inaugurated on the day of the King's 41st birthday on October 22, 1730. The festivities lasted for 8 days and were of a scale never seen before in Portugal. The basilica was dedicated to Our Lady and to St. Anthony.

However the building was not finished. The lantern on the cupola was completed in 1735. Work continued until 1755, when the work force was needed in Lisbon by the devastations of the Lisbon earthquake.[15]

Later history
The palace in 1853, during the reign of Queen Maria II of Portugal.
Aerial photograph of the palace taken in 1936.

The palace was not occupied permanently by the royalty, who considered the rooms too gloomy. Nonetheless, it was a popular destination for the members of the royal family who enjoyed hunting in the nearby game preserve, the Tapada Nacional de Mafra. During the reign of King John VI the palace was inhabited for a whole year in 1807. The king was responsible for a partial renovation of the building by some well-known artists. However, with the French invasion of Portugal, in 1807, the royal family fled to Brazil, taking with them some of the best pieces of art and furniture in the building. Marshal Junot took up residence in the palace, to be driven out in turn by Wellington.

In 1834, after the Liberal Wars, Queen Maria II ordered the dissolution of the religious orders and the convent was abandoned by the Franciscans. During the last reigns of the House of Braganza, the palace was mainly used as a base for hunting. In 1849 the monastery part of the building was assigned to the military, a situation still in use today.[citation needed]

The last king of Portugal, Manuel II, following the proclamation of the republic, left on 5 October 1910 from the palace to the nearby coastal village of Ericeira on his way to exile. The palace was declared a national monument in 1907.[citation needed] At present, the building is conserved by the Portuguese Institute of the Architectonic Patrimony, which carried out several recovery programs, including the conservation of the main façade. A major restoration of the historical pipe organs began in 1998 with the collaboration of foreign experts and was finished in 2010.[16] The restoration won the Europa Nostra 2012 award.[17]

^ Born "Maria Anna" of Austria but known as "Mariana" in Portugal ^ Richard Hamblyn Terra, Picador, 2009 ISBN 978-0-330-49073-3 ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra". Câmara Municipal de Mafra. 2015-06-18. Archived from the original on 2018-04-09. Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra - Biblioteca". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra - Basílica". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra - Órgãos". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra, History". Câmara Municipal de Mafra. 2015-06-18. Archived from the original on 2019-03-22. Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra - Carrilhões". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ The construction of the palace was so costly that it consumed virtually all of the Brazilian gold, which might otherwise have been used to benefit the general economy of Portugal. Toby Green, Inquisition: The Reign of Fear, p. 315. ^ "Ludovice, Arquitecto ou Capataz". Monumento de Mafra Virtual (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on March 7, 2021. Retrieved August 28, 2022. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra". Monumentos. Retrieved 2018-04-13. ^ "Guiao de Vista de Estudo: Palaciio-Convento de Mafra" (PDF) (in Portuguese). Colegio de Sao Tomas. 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 22, 2020. Retrieved August 28, 2022. ^ "National Palace of Mafra". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "Palácio Nacional de Mafra - Real Obra de Mafra". (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2018-04-09. ^ "The Mafra National Palace in Numbers". A Portuguese Affair. April 27, 2017. Archived from the original on August 28, 2022. Retrieved August 28, 2022. ^ "Os seis órgãos de Mafra" (PDF) (in Portuguese). PN Mafra. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 12, 2014. Retrieved August 28, 2022. ^ "Restauro dos seis órgãos da Basílica de Mafra distinguido com galardão "Europa Nostra" | Secretariado Nacional da Pastoral da Cultura".
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