To cap off our time in Lisbon, we took a trip to the Mafra National Palace. This was something I was particularly looking forward to, since it was supposed to have a library that rivals any in Europe – both for the books it holds and how beautiful it is – but that’s reading a few chapters ahead.
Our journey started with a quick jaunt on the Metro out to Campo Grande. There we had time for a snack (pastries and espresso, of course) while we waited for our bus. Rather than running city routes, the Mafrense bus service reaches the further-out suburbs and uses charter buses with cushiony seats and decent wi-fi. Like the Uber drivers we had, our bus drivers were very leadfooted. Combine the speeding bus with lots of narrow and curvy roads, and Kevin and were both as close to carsickness as we’ve ever come.
But the bus dropped us off right next to the palace… which is suitably impressive. An empty courtyard out front makes sure the massive size strikes visitors. I gave up trying to get the whole of it in a single photo.
The Palace is so large that the basilica in the middle of it only takes up a small portion of the facade. The King’s and Queen’s rooms are on opposite sides and sit about 700 feet apart in separate towers on either corner. They’re far apart, is what I’m saying.
The royal family did not actually spend that much time at the Palace. The building was drafty and mostly used for hunting parties, and they eventually had the more tropical option of vacationing in Brazil and later got deposed. There are no rooms of royal treasure or golden crowns. Still, there are the usual assortment of giant rooms for impressing important guests, multiple music rooms, a game room full of antlers and hunting trophies and a different kind of game room with billiard tables and some sort of prehistoric pachinko machine.
The palace even held a monastery – we toured the large kitchens and infirmary, as well as the interior cloister.
And then there is the grand finale, the library.
It is absolutely gorgeous; the best library I’ve ever seen in person.
The library was designed to be the most important part of the convent and palace; it is even larger than the basilica. There are hundreds of feet of ornate shelving and arched windows to let in light. Miles of books were bound in leather by local craftsmen, so they all look and feel like they belong to the same collection. Some were set out in display cases, showing off printing dates from the 1500 and 1600s and the ornate book plates and fold-out maps that were sent inside the front covers.
In total, there are almost 40,000 volumes comprising one of the great collections of old and rare books in Europe. In the 1700s, when such edicts were necessary, the Catholic Church provided the library with a dispensation that allowed books explicitly banned by the Church to be kept within its walls. Oddly, it is cared for in part by bats: the easiest way to keep the collection clear of insects is to let several hundred bats in at night to have a snack.
The interior of the basilica, as gorgeous as it is, pales in comparison (in my mind at least) to the library. It is unique in that it has 6 organs; the library contains musical scores written for the church that can be played no where else in the world. It was our last stop before chowing down on some more pastries and grabbing the bus back to Lisbon
It was windy, wavey-feeling ride back to the Metro, and an uphill walk from the Metro to our apartment. Of course, we stopped for one more meal, an order of duck-sausage-asparagus rice with a side of crab-and-egg guacamole, at the Mercado.
We got up very early a couple of days later to catch our flight to Barcelona, where I am writing this. Barcelona is much larger than Lisbon, both in population and sheer scale of the city. Fortunately, we picked a decently-located apartment within walking distance of many sights (though most walks will be longer, and we might have to use transit a bit more). We’ve already noticed that they are more choices for supermarkets than where we were in Lisbon, though pastry shops are fewer and farther between…