Thursday, April 27, 2017

Palácio Nacional da Ajuda

Has it ever happened to you that you wanted to visit a castle, went there and then realised that you came on the only day of the week it is closed to the public? That is exactly what happened to me at the Palácio Nacional da Ajuda to me last year. I still took some pictures from the outside and so I thought I would share the history of the former home of the Portuguese royal family with you anyway.

The 1755 earthquake that hit Lisbon and the surrounding areas had a lasting impact on the life of the royal family of Portugal. Their primary residence, the Paço da Ribeira in central Lisbon, was destroyed. While the family had stayed in nearby Belém during the catastrophe that killed tens of thousands of people, King José I refused to live under a residence of masonry and instead took refuge in a wooden shack next to the palace of the Counts of Óbidos. He soon ordered for a more elaborate wooden building to be constructed in the hills of Ajuda. The Real Barraca (Royal Tent) or Paço de Madeira (Wooden Palace) was completed on September 20, 1761, and the royal court was to remain there until the death of the King in 1777.
His successors Queen Maria I and her husband King Pedro III lived at the Palácio Nacional de Queluz at the time and thus the Real Barraca was vacated. The wooden palace was later destroyed during a fire though firefighters managed to save the library and chapel from destruction. Starting in July 1795, the site was cleared of the remainders of the fire and construction on a new palace started. The first cornerstone was laid on November 9 under the direction of Manuel Caetano de Sousa, who had the idea to create a Rococo-style building. However, construction was interrupted shortly after. Various architects and contractors had made alterations to the original plans and thus architects José da Costa e Silva and Francisco Xavier Fabri were commissioned to present a new plan for the palace in 1802. Shortly after, Sousa died and Costa e Silva and Fabri were appointed the official architects.
The duo respected the the already existing structures yet introduced alterations that would give the palace a more serious and majestic appearance. The palace was also slightly downsized to consist of buildings surrounding two courtyards. In 1807, when Portugal was invaded by French troops, works on the Palâcio da Ajuda stopped and the royal family fled to Brazil. While the royal court remained in South America for another eights years, construction was taken up again in 1813 under Fabri. By 1821, when José VI of Portugal returned from Brazil, the palace had not yet been completed and was only used for some state and ceremonial events. The palace began to be used as a royal residence five years later, when the Infanta Isabel Maria, the Regent of the young Queen Maria II, wanted to turn Ajuda into a habitable palace. The original plans were thus further downsized. However, the palace was abandoned by the royal court in favour of Queluz Palace in 1829.
While works slowly continued over the following decades, it was only under King Luís I and his new Queen Maria Pia, née Princess of Savoy, that the palácio became a royal residence again in 1862. In order to make it their home, the King comissioned Possidónio da Silva and Costa Sequeira to renovate and remodel the building, primarily based on the tastes of the Queen. It was at the Palácio da Ajuda that their son, the future King Carlos I, was born. After the death of her husband, Queen Maria Pia continued to live in the palace with her younger son, Infante Afonso, though the new King Carlos I also used it for official functions. After Carlos' murder in 1908 and the end of the monarchy two years later, the palace came into the possession of the Portuguese state. It is still used for official functions, such as state dinners, by the President of the Republic.

Good to know:
The Palácio Nacional da Ajuda is open every day of the week except for Wednesdays from 10am to 6pm. It is also closed on January 1, Easter Sunday, May 1 and December 25. Admission is 5 euros. For more information, have a look here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

CastleDrama: A United Kingdom

Growing up in Europe, you more or less think of Africa as a continent of more or less failed states cursed by their resources. When I went to university, I started to learn about Botswana. Located in the southern part of the continent, the once third poorest country was turned into a stable democracy embracing free markets and the rule of law and thus dramatically improving the situation of its inhabitants - all thanks to the country's insightful leaders at the time Botswana gained independence from the British in 1966. One of the men who led the way was Seretse Khama. Born into one of the most powerful of the royal families of what was then the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland and chief and King of the Bamangwato people, he became the country's first President in 1966. In another interesting story of his life, he was married to a white woman.

"A United Kingdom", a film released last year, tells the story of Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama. The couple met while Khama studied in England, quickly fell in love and married. However, everyone is against the union of duo: First of all their families, Khama's tribe and also the British government, which fears nothing less than relations with South Africa and the stability of the entire region of Southern Africa. After all South Africa had just introduced Apartheid and a mixed race couple ruling just across the border was nothing the government approved of in the slightest bit. Britain, in difference, needed the access to South Africa’s resources, including its gold, minerals, diamonds, and most importantly, uranium.

For all the turmoil and political events around them, the story of "A United Kingdom" remains focused on the love story of Seretse and Ruth. However, their desire to stay together is always connected to the fate of Bechuanaland. What follows is a battle spanning multiple decades though the film remains surprisingly quiet throughout leaving most of the violent political struggles out of the picture. When the film gets a little louder, such as a tribal meeting upon the couple's arrival in Bechuanaland and his time in exile, especially the performance of David Oyelowo shines even brighter. A much recommended film about a lesser known royal couple!

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Do you recall Duke Georg of Brunswick-Lüneburg, Prince of Calenberg from my recent post about the rivalry between Brunswick and Hanover? It was he who elected Hanover as his new residence after the redivision of the territories of the House of Guelph in 1636 after the death of Friedrich Ulrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg. However, Hanover had been pretty much a backwater until that point in history and when good old Georg came to the city, there wasn't really a proper royal home for him to move into. And what do you do when you are a nobleman and have no residence to move into? Of course, you build one.

Thus starts the history of the Leineschloss in Hanover, today the seat of parliament of the German state of Lower Saxony. The first building on the banks of the Leine river was a Franciscan friary, constructed in about 1300 and abandoned in 1533 after the Protestant Reformation. In 1636, Duke Georg began construction of a new palace on the site as his residence. This first Leineschloss was a rather modest half-timbered building reflecting the trying times of the Thirty Years' War.

Georg's third son Johann Friedrich had a family crypt as well as a Capuchin monastery erected in the palace starting in 1665. The monastery was dissolved again 15 years later by his younger brother and successor, the future Elector Ernst August of Hanover, whose wife may be more familiar to you: A certain Electress Sophie, whose legitimate Protestant descendants make up the line of succession to the British throne (to put it simply and leave out all the bits about being married to a Catholic prior to a certain point in time). It was the same Ernst August who bought surrounding buildings to tear them down to give his palace more room to be palatial. He also added a opera house to the palace encompassing 1,300 seats.

Ernst August's and Sophie's son Elector Georg Ludwig, again possibly more familiar to you as King George I of Great Britain, had the interior of the Leineschloss refurbished according to the tastes of the time. At the time, there was a busy court life going on in Hanover with guests including Georg Friedrich Händel, Tsar Peter the Great, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, as well as Prince Eugen of Savoy visiting the palace on the Leine river. Georg Ludwig became George I of Great Britain in 1714 and while construction works continued, for the following 123 years - until the end of the personal union between Great Britain and Hanover - the Leineschloss mostly was a royal residence without a regent. 
Nonetheless, in 1742 the Northern wing was rebuilt after it had burnt down during a fire a year earlier. In 1797, the Western facade was given a new appearance. Further works, however, were halted when French troops invaded the Kingdom of Hanover during the Napoleonic Wars and remained in the city until 1813. The French troops under General Édouard Adolphe Mortier looted the palace, which started to fall into disrepair soon after. Jérôme Bonaparte, younger brother of Napoleon and King of Westphalia, gifted the Schloss to the city and it became a barrack for 3,000 men. 

Between 1816 and 1844, architect Georg Ludwig Friedrich Laves fully rebuilt the palace. The status of Hanover had been upgraded following the Congress of Vienna and the new Kingdom needed a representative residence to reflect that status. Laves gave the palace a Classicist appearance with Baroque elements on the side facing the Leine river. The column portico with six Corinthian columns to the other side was built during this period as well. A special feature of the new palace was a winter garden requested by Queen Friederike. Originally planned to house the the Queen's plants, the winter garden today is the office of the Prime Minister of Lower Saxony.

While there had been plans to expand the Leineschloss, these were abandoned under King George V of Hanover. He decided to build a new royal residence instead, the recently covered Welfenschloss. Already in 1862, the Leineschloss became home for parliamentary bodies. It was also at the Schloss where four years later the annexation of the Kingdom of Hanover by Prussia was announced. Subsequently, the Guelps left for exile and the palace was used by the Prussian state. It also housed an apartment for the Kaiser Wilhelm II, who stayed there around 20 times.

Towards the end of World War II, the Leineschloss was destroyed during air raids, as was much of the inner city of Hanover. While the idea to rebuild the palace as the seat of parliament arose as early as 1946, the official decision for reconstruction was made 10 years later. In December 1957, the remains of several Guelph rulers were transferred from the palace's crypt to the Mausoleum in Herrenhausen. During the following five years, the Schloss' exterior was reconstructed according to plans by Dieter Oesterlein while its interior was given an appearance to suit the needs of a parliament. While more recently the deconstruction of the palace in favour of a new parliamentary building was hotly debated, it was instead decided to renovate the Leineschloss once more.

Good to know:
The Leineschloss today is the seat of parliament of the German state of Lower Saxony. While the public can visit the palace, you will not find many reminders of its royal past in it. Instead just stroll along the banks of the Leine river and marvel at the palace's exterior while taking a tour of Hanover's Old Town.