Ajuda National Palace

Lisbon is brimming with magnificent monuments, but few are as historically significant as Ajuda Palace, a lavish royal residence of impressive proportions.

Set in a prime location overlooking the Tagus Estuary in west Lisbon, not far from the tourist centre of Belém, the palace was constructed on the site of a wooden palace built to shelter the royal family after the great earthquake of 1755 and today is full of poignant reminders of Portugal’s prosperous and powerful past.

Founded at the end of the 18th century, the palace later became the official residence of Portuguese kings from the reign of King Luís (1861-1889) until the fall of the country’s 771-year-old monarchy in 1910. Luís’ wife Maria Pia (daughter of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy) continued living there as Queen Dowager until her death in 1911.

Blessed with a sumptuous mid-Victorian-style interior, visitors can tour the premises and marvel at its unique contents, including the handsome set of furniture made out of Saxe porcelain (the King of Saxony’s wedding present to Queen Maria Pia), a number of striking portraits of various royal personages, statues and various other objets d’art.

Don’t miss the many rich tapestries, such as Minerva’s Triumph Tapestry produced by Urbanus Leyniers in 1728/1729 and Jan-Frans van der Borght’s tapestry depicting Achilles dragging Hector’s corpse (1726-1761).

Still used today for the occasional stately banquet and official reception, Ajuda Palace has many other important aspects, most notably the ground-floor library with its vast collection of rare volumes and precious manuscripts.

Completed as recently as 2021, the contemporary design of the palace’s new west wing contains the Portuguese crown jewels, most notably King João VI’s crown, a diadem made of gold, silver and diamonds and various jewels belonging to the House of Bragança (or Braganza). Other highlights include a 17th-century gold medal and a very rare 24-escudo gold coin, plus a large gold nugget and rough diamond which were both brought back from Brazil in the second half of the 18th century.

What to see and do in Lisbon

Once the preferred meeting place of the ladies of the royal court, the well-preserved Ajuda Botanical Garden at the top of the Calçada da Ajuda features ponds, waterfalls and a dragon tree planted over 250 years ago. Covering some four hectares, it was the first garden of its kind to open in Portugal when it was established in 1768 and today serves as a wonderful extension for people visiting Ajuda National Palace.

Nearby, the small church of Memória (built on the exact spot of an unsuccessful attempt on the life of King José) houses the tomb of Marquês de Pombal, the man who effectively ruled Portugal as chief minister to King José at the time of the 1755 earthquake. He famously instructed his aids to ‘bury the dead and heal the living’ before rebuilding central Lisbon with a new grid system now considered to be one of the most innovative examples of urban design anywhere in the world.

A short walk down the hill towards the River Tagus takes you to Belém, Lisbon’s historic square-mile, where several other key attractions can be visited, most notably Jerónimos Monastery, Coach Museum, Archaeology Museum, Maritime Museum, Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (home to the world-famous pastel de Belém custard tart), Monument to the Discoveries and the Portuguese capital’s most loveable landmark – the Tower of Belém.

One of the best (and certainly the most nostalgic) ways to reach Ajuda National Palace (indicated on the Google map below) and its many nearby attractions is by travelling on the old tram number 18 which departs from the centre of Lisbon, passing the excellent Ancient Art Museum (Portugal’s State Gallery) en route.

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