Out of adversity came a palace

Discover the unique history behind this palace's construction

By National Palace of Ajuda

King João V (18th century) by Carlos Antonio LeoniNational Coach Museum

In 1726, King D. João V of Portugal acquired three estates in the parish of Belém: one became the Palace of Belém; on the second parcel an Oratory, which was eventually expanded, becoming the Palace of Necessidades; the third reserved for a summer residence that never materialized during his reign but was to become where the National Palace of Ajuda would be built.

On 1 November 1755 All Saints Day an earthquake of epic proportions hit Lisbon. Subsequent fires and a tsunami led to the destruction of much of downtown Lisbon.

The event was widely discussed and dwelt upon by European Enlightenment philosophers, and inspired major developments in theodicy. As the first earthquake studied scientifically for its effects over a large area, it led to the birth of modern seismology and earthquake engineering.

Visitors to Lisbon can still see the devastating impact of the earthquake in the Carmo Convent, which was preserved to remind Lisboners of the event.

Monsignor Giorgio Cornaro's entrance procession in Lisbon in 1693 (17th century) by Unknown authorNational Coach Museum

The Royal Ribeira Palace, which stood just beside the Tagus river in the modern square of Terreiro do Paço, was destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami. Inside, the 70,000-volume royal library as well as hundreds of works of art, including paintings by Titian, Rubens, and Correggio, were lost. The royal archives disappeared together with detailed historical records of explorations by Vasco da Gama and other early navigators.

King Jose I (18th century) by Attrib. Francisco Jose AparícioNational Coach Museum

The reigning monarch of the time King D. José I and his family, survived the earthquake largely unscathed. The royal family was in Belém at the time, one of the lesser affected neighbourhoods.

The earthquake caused the King to develop a severe case of claustrophobia, and he was never again comfortable living within a walled building. Consequently, he moved the royal court to an extensive complex of tents in the hills of Ajuda.

The court remained at this site living in a series of wooden structures and tents for nearly three decades, in a luxurious atmosphere until the King's death in 1777.

In November 1794, during the reign of Queen Mary I and the Prince-Regent, the royal tent was destroyed by fire, although the fire-fighters were able to save the library and church.

Those who visit the National Palace of Ajuda will notice in front in the middle of a parking lot the remains of the church's bell tower.

Prince D. João (19th century) by António de Domingos SequeiraNational Palace of Ajuda

By order of Prince D. João (later to become King D. João VI) In 1795 the rubble and terrain were cleared and the first cornerstone for the construction of a new palace was laid on 9 November, under the direction of Manuel Caetano de Sousa who conceived an ostentatious dated Baroque-late Rococo building. But the construction was interrupted shortly after.

In the background of this portrait from the Palace's collection, we are shown the original plan for the building, we can see how it differs greatly in both size and style from the current building.

The intial design was overcomplicated, with mounting confusion and difficulties between the architects and contractors, on 21 January 1802, José da Costa e Silva and Francisco Xavier Fabri, were invited by the Crown to present a new project. Based on the Palace of Caserta in Naples, designed by Luigi Vanvitelli , Costa e Silva and Fabri respected what was already constructed, but introduced necessary alterations to change the Royal Palace into a more dignified, serious and majestic building.

Departure of the Portugues Royal Family for Brazil (19th century) by Nicolas-Luis-Albert Delerive (attrib.)National Coach Museum

By 1807, the painters, sculptors and decorators had been contracted, but the arrival of Junot's forces immediately stopped the build when Royal Family fled to Brazil on 29 de novembro de 1807. It was from the Palace that Prince D. João addressed his subjects for the last time before departing to Brazil.

The French General Junot insisted that the building should continue. But in 1809, the French invasion of the Portuguese territory and the cost of the construction of the Royal Palace in Brazil the Paço de São Cristóvão caused construction to stop.

Princess Isabel Maria (19th century) by Unknown authorNational Coach Museum

When the Court returned from Brazil the Palace was still unfinished and it only hosted formal official ceremonies. In 1826, after the death of King John VI (1767-1826), when the east and south wings were already inhabitable, Princess Regent D. Isabel Maria (1801-1876) and two sisters chose it as their residence.

An allegory to King D. Miguel (1827) by Arcangelo FoschiniNational Palace of Ajuda

Two years later, King Miguel (1802-1866) also elected Ajuda as his home, a fact which greatly boosted the rhythm of construction. To avoid discontinuance, six months later the king moved to the Necessidades Palace and eventually never came back. Clashes between liberals and absolutists plunged the country into the Portuguese Civil War. As a result, in 1833 the construction was paralyzed, never to be resumed along the original plans.

After the Liberal victory, King Pedro took over the Regency, for the duration of time his daughter D. Maria da Glória’s was too young to assume the Throne, and in 1834 swore to uphold the Constitutional Charter in the Throne Room at the Ajuda Palace.

Portrait of Maria II of Portugal (1846) by Ferdinand KrumholzNational Palace of Ajuda

Shortly after D. Pedro I died in September 1834, victim of tuberculosis. His daughter Queen D. Maria II inherited the throne, ensuring the continuation of the constitutional monarchy.

Throughout the Queen Maria II’s reign (1819-1853) and the short reign of King Pedro V (1837-1861), the Royal Family took up residence in the Necessidades Palace.

‏‏‎ Portrait of D. Luis by Michele GordigianiNational Palace of Ajuda

Following the tragic deaths of members of the Royal Family in 1861 from typhoid fever, there were many who counselled King Luís to abandon the Palace of Necessidades. It was therefor with King Luís I’s (1838-1889) ascent to the throne a new stage for Ajuda began,finally acquiring the true dimension of a Royal Palace upon being chosen as the official residence of the Sovereign.

‏‏‎ Portrait of Queen Maria Pia of Savoy by Michele GordigianiNational Palace of Ajuda

The real changes in the interior design and decoration started n 1862, the year of the king's marriage to Princess of Savoy D. Maria Pia (1847-1911).

Shell-shaped goblet (c. 1855) by Slaviati & Co.National Palace of Ajuda

Wedding gifts and Queen’s belongings brought from Italy helped decorate the renovated apartments. Find out more about the Queen's unique collection of beautiful Italian glassware here.

The new layout and decor of the rooms, entrusted to architect Joaquim Possidónio Narciso da Silva, followed the recent standards of comfort, privacy and hygiene, typical of the 19th century bourgeois mentality. More intimate and sheltered spaces were now required. New rooms were introduced in the ground floor: the Dining Room, for daily family meals, a living room - the Blue Room - and leisure areas, such as the Marble Room and the Billiards Room; finally the bathrooms, provided with running water, hot and cold.

The Ground Floor, extending from the Music Hall alongside the western façade, reserved for the private chambers. The “Noble” Floor, was reserved for gala receptions and The Palace became the stage of Council of State meetings, of big gala events - banquets and official receptions - and of daily family life: Prince Carlos (1863-1908) and Prince Afonso (1865-1920) were born here.

After King Luís I’s death in 1889 the busy life at the Ajuda Palace changed deeply. Under the new reign the Court had split up between three Palaces: Ajuda, Belém and Necessidades. The Ajuda “noble” floor nonetheless remained reserved for official ceremonies.
In 1910, when the Republic was established and the Royal family subsequently went into exile, the Palace was closed. After a period of restricted access the Palace opened to the public on the 20th of August 1968, offering a glimpse of the environments and collections of a Royal Household of the late 19th century.
Since 1996 this royal residence has undergone a reconstitution process, as accurate as possible, several rooms having been refurbished according to rigorous historical research criteria.
Apart from being one of the most important museum institutions for the Decorative Arts in the country, the Ajuda National Palace is still today the stage of State ceremonial events.

The completion of the palace

In November 2014 it was announced that last remaining wing of the palace was to be constructed.

This new wing (to be complete by 2020), will not only see the completion of the palace, over 200 years after the first stone was laid. The wing will also be the permanent home of the palace's collection and will display thousands of Royal and jewels.

Credits: Story

Digital Production: Luis Ramos Pinto Dirctorate-General for Cultural Heritage (DGPC)

Text: Ajuda National Palace (website) & Wikipédia

Content oversight: Maria João Botelho Muniz Burnay (glass curator Palácio Nacional da Ajuda)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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