Attention all bibliophiles: go to Palácio de Mafra!
Are you a real book lover? Check out the amazing Palácio de Mafra! From Sintra it was a 25-minute drive. It exceeded all my expectations! When you arrive in the petite village of Mafra with all its small houses, you cannot miss this colossal palace! Compared to the size of the village this building is almost a joke. Think about: Rome’s San Pietro placed in the city center of, let’s say, Urk. It’s HUGE and surely one of most impressive buildings I have ever seen. A must-see!
Big, bigger, biggest
The palace of Mafra is the most important monument of the Portuguese baroque designed by Italian-trained German architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig (1670-1752). The building was commissioned by Portugal’s most extravagant king, João V, in 1717. The commissioning started as a vow to build a monastery and basilica supposedly done in return for a heir, but more likely to atone for his sexual escapades.
Many architectural elements of the palace were copied directly from works of the Roman architect Francesco Borromini. The architectural plan is symmetrical with in its central axis the basilica. It is flanked by two pavilions and on the rear side of the building is the monastery, which was inhabited by 300 Franciscan monks of Arrábida. All is completely build in limestone and marble from the Pêro Pinheiro and Sintra region. It covers 37.790 m² and includes 1.200 rooms, 4.700+ doors and windows, 156 stairways and 29 courtyards and inner yards.
Neither costs nor efforts were spared during the time of construction. Approximately 50.000 men worked on the building, which was only made possible because of the flow of gold from Brazil (at that time part of the Portuguese colonial empire). Fine sculptures and paintings were commissioned by great Italian and Portuguese artists and it even started its own School of Sculpture under the directions of the Italian master Alessandro Giusti (1715–1799).
Unfortunately, the Royal family only visited the palace for very short periods. The only one who had inhabited it for a complete year was João VI, before the Court fled to Brazil when Napoleon’s army invaded Portugal.
The biggest treasure of Mafra is its library. It´s the largest rococo library in the world and includes a collection of more than 40.000 books. The Portuguese architect Manuel Caetano de Sousa (1738 – 1802) was commissioned to draw the rocaille wooden bookshelves.
Thanks to the monks, who had their own bookbinding workshop, the valuable collection is still in excellent state of preservation. Most books dates back to the 16th, 17th and 18th century and discuss all areas of knowledge of the enlightenment, like geography, medicine, travel, philosophy, mathematics and literature.
Want to know more about all the fantastic libraries around the world? Get the book of James Campbell and Will Pryce: The library! Love it!