Building the Ajuda Royal Palace
The urgent need to build a new palace and the fact that the Royal Family survived the cataclysm due to their living in the low seismicity area of Belém//Ajuda at the time, justified the choice of that location. The new palace, inhabitable since 1761, came to be the Court residence for about three decades. In 1794, under King Mary I (1734-1816), a fire utterly destroyed this royal abode, as well as a large part of its valuable holdings. The task of planning a new palace of stone and lime fell to Manuel Caetano de Sousa, an architect of public works, who designed it still in accordance with the Baroque architectural trends. This project was initiated in 1796 under Royal Prince Regent D.João and suspended after five years of construction when, in 1802 Francisco Xavier Fabri and José da Costa e Silva, architects who had taken their degree in Italy, were instructed to adapt it to the new neoclassical style. This task, later taken up by António Francisco Rosa, responsible for the “reductive” design of the project, was never fully completed.
Departure of the Court to Brazil in 1807
Factors of a varied nature imparted a discontinuous rhythm to the building process, namely the Court’s departure to Brazil in 1807, following the Napoleonic invasions, as well as the continuing shortage of financial resources. The best artists of the kingdom worked on the palace: Domingos Sequeira, Arcângelo Foschini, Cyriol Wolkmar Machado, Joaquim Machado de Castro and João José de Aguiar, who focused mainly on the pictorial and sculptural decorations. In 1821 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. Maria Isabel (1801-1876) and two sisters chose it as their residence.
King D. Miguel lived in the Ajuda Royal Palace
Two years later, King Miguel (1802-1866) also elected Ajuda as his home, a fact which greatly boosted the building rhythm . 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 a fragile stability, and in 1833 the construction completely paralyzed, never to be resumed along the lines planned. After the Liberal victory, King Pedro took over the Regency, during his daughter D. Maria da Glória’s minority, and in 1834 swore to uphold the Constitutional Charter in the Throne Room at the Ajuda Palace. Throughout the Queen Maria II’s reign (1819-1853) and the short reign of King Pedro V (1837-1861), who took up residence in Necessidades, the Ajuda Palace took second place.
With King Luís I the Palace gains new life
With King Luís I’s (1838-1889) ascent to the throne a new stage began, with Ajuda finally acquiring the true dimension of a Royal Palace upon being chosen as the official residence of the Sovereign. From 1861 onwards construction works were made in the building structure that proved indispensable to accommodate the new king. 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). It was the beginning of a long process of reformulation, comprising different levels, walls, ceilings – that were upholstered, plastered or pain ted anew –, floors – lined with parquet and carpets – , as well as new furniture for the rooms. All was commissioned to specialized Portuguese and foreign suppliers of the Royal Household. Wedding gifts and Queen’s belongings brought from Italy helped decorate the renovated apartments.
New layout and decor of the rooms
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 “Noble” Floor was reserved for gala receptions and the Ground Floor, extending from the Music Hall alongside the western façade, reserved for the private chambers. 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, where Queen Maria Pia remained with Prince Afonso; Belém - birthplace of Prince Luís Filipe (1887-1908) and Prince Manuel(1889-1932) - and Necessidades, alternative residences of King Carlos I and Queen Amélia (1865-1951). The Ajuda “noble” floor remained reserved for official ceremonies.
Establishment of the Republic and the Palace Today
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 visits, from 1940 to 1968, available only to bearers of a “permit card to visit the Ajuda National Palace" issued by the Directorate General of Treasury, 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.
In 2007 the Ajuda Palace, along with the other national palaces, became part of the set of properties governed by the former Institute of Museums and Conservation, currently the General Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
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.