The Pena palace and gardens, as I have mentioned before, were conceived by king Ferdinand II as a kind of creative outlet. More or less like a grandpa who builds a wooden cabin by the lake so his family can spend some time there in the Summer – except he was a king, so he had more money, people to work for him and lots of space.
Basically, I don’t think the king ever considered the palace and gardens would be open for people to visit them, so he didn’t care about what people would think about some things in particular. It’s a bit like that weird uncle who lives all by himself and then one day he dies and you find he had a collection of vintage porcelain dolls.
The photo above shows a fountain in the Pena gardens, known as “fountain of the little birds” and, although the gate is now closed, I drank water from that fountain quite a few times when I was a kid. Above the gate, and surrounding the domelike ceiling, there’s an inscription in Arabic alphabet which always puzzled me – until recently, when I found its translation. It reads: “The Sultan D. Manuel built this chapel blessed in the name of Our Lady Mary of Pena, in the year 1503, in celebration of the safe return of Dom Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the lands and countries which he found, ie, the Cape of Good Hope, India and others. For His Highness the Sultan Ferdinand the Second, husband of Her Majesty Queen Maria II, built it this way with plenty of royal magnificence in the year 1840.”
The text is written in an old-fashioned style (even for the time) and, as you may have guessed, the people mentioned as Sultans were, in fact, Portuguese kings. So…
Was the inscription meant as a kind of joke by an eccentric king or is there more to it? I can imagine a dialogue between the queen and king about this inscription:
Queen – Why did you do that?!
King – Because I can!