coach and four (and more)

For many years the National Coach Museum was the only museum of note in Lisbon.  (That’s since changed.) It has also been derided among certain culturati for it’s royalist leanings and lack of panache, but remains, in my mind, one of the more interesting exhibitions of its kind. The collection of royal coaches is the largest in the world, ranging from a rare 17th century coach belonging to King Phillip (with a cleverly hidden potty seat) to the famous 19th century carriages sent by King João V to Pope Clement XI.  Also on view is a royal sedan built in London and last used by Queen Elizabeth II for a state visit.  The carriages – made in Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria, France and England – make for fascinating historical snapshots; moreover, they trace the development of sculpture, gilt work and the applied arts over the course of two centuries.  For this we have to thank Amelia, the last Queen of Portugal.  In 1905 she saw the advent of more efficient means of transportation and to that end thought the royal collection worth preserving. A good thing she saved them when she did: three years later her husband, the King, would be assassinated; two years after that, the royal family was sent into exile with the establishment of the Portuguese Republic.

 

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a monastic moment

From my balcony at Penha Longa I can see orange trees in the foreground and the lone figure of Michael, the Archangel, atop a cupola. Yet it’s not some distant church, I discover; it’s the Monastery of St. Jerome on the grounds of the hotel. The history of Penha Longa and the Monastery is inextricably linked with the history of Portugal.  Founded by Friar Vasco Martins in 1355, the historic structure was built in 1390 when King Joāo sponsored the purchase of the site for the burgeoning order of Hieronymite – or hermit – monks. The small monastery thrived, increasing its domain thanks to the grace and favor of various Kings and Princes who often stayed for long periods, preferring the cooler micro-climate of Sintra to the heat of Lisbon. In the 16th century, King Manuel built a small palace next to the Monastery as a weekend getaway for the royal family.  The Manueline style, a late-Portuguese Gothic which we’ll see a lot more of once we get to Lisbon, can still be seen in the buildings that survived the great earthquake of 1755: the Sacristy and the main entrance to the Convent, and in both the arched ceilings and twin portals of the Palace. In 1584, the Monastery played historic host to the first European visit by a Japanese delegation. (Two tiles, recently unearthed on the property, depict the visit and can be seen in the hotel’s lobby.) With the expulsion of all religious orders from Portugal in 1834, however, the compound’s days as a functioning monastery ended. The property was abandoned and left to its fate, before being purchased at auction by Viscount Olivais, Count of Penha Longa.  It passed through a shifting series of private hands until it became part of a newly built hotel in the 1990’s. Now it’s one of the more unique highlights available to guests at Ritz-Carlton’s Penha Longa property. (I mean, come on, how many hotels come with their own monastery?) The soaring spaces house majestic conference and banqueting facilities, acres of rejuvenated palace gardens with fountains, reflecting pools, and dovecotes make for inquisitive strolling, and in the former royal palace you can still get the king’s treatment at the luxurious Six Senses Spa.

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