The Manueline Style

What is is about the transition periods?  And, I am using transition here not in the mid- life crisis sense, but in a larger, historical  sense.  Transitions are the most complex, interesting, tough, and hands down intriguing.  Complex and tough because they are a time when two previously alien things come together; new synergies have no rulebook to abide by, no expected trajectory.  Interesting and intriguing, well, for the very same reason: no rule book, no predictable results.  Who doesn’t love a good mystery?  Or, if you don’t transitions also mean new discoveries, new certainties.  So looks like it is a win/win.

I took a little weekend excursion to Lisbon this weekend, and the absolutely first thing that hit me there was the architecture.  I was totally confused, and to be honest I kept having to remind myself where I was.  The buildings were composed of European styled columns and decorative figures yet the facades were covered in painted tiles.  Very generally, every building personified a kind of east-meets-west aesthetic.  And then I took the train to Sintra, a nearby town known for its UNESO world heritage status.  It has an immense history, documented by around eight castles all within minutes of each other, yet centuries apart.  That’s where I decided I definitely did not know where I was.  Tenth century Moorish military castles built from gray, cold stone alongside 19th century castles built by Ferdinand II in bright yellows, pinks and blues?  What land was this that it was all side by side?  Imagine what you would get if medieval met tropical.  That was Sintra.   

I decided I needed some clarification.  To the history books (websites) I went.  The first and foremost thing I believe to be crucial is Portugal’s history of maritime exploration.  Motivated by finding new trade routes, the Portuguese were on the look out for new land, a and shorter route to India for the spice trade.  Through these desires, they became quite the travelers, picking up much along the way.  It was the period from around 1490 to about 1520 that proved to be inspirational.  The explorers went from the coasts of Africa, to Brazil, to India.  The result was the Manueline style back in Portugal; an aesthetic that combined sea symbols such as ropes, and materials such as pearl and shell with patterns similar to Islamic tile work, asymmetry, conical forms, and Indian temple decoration.  The Portuguese were not ones to explore without incorporating the new things they saw.  

Let’s take a look at The Sintra National Palace for these new incorporated things.  This palace was in use most intensely from around the 15th to the 19th century.  Prior to the 15th century, in fact closer to the 10th century, Sintra was under Islamic rule.  This palace was the residence of the Moorish leaders, with their look-out castle just a short walk away.  Two centuries later, around the 12th century, a Portuguese conqueror named Alfonso I overtook the Moorish rule.  He became the first King of Portugal.  Now, not much remains of the Palace from the 10th century Moorish rule or the 12th century take over but maybe bits of the Chapel.  What we see today is because of building campaigns underwent in the 15th centuries forward.  But, I find this Palace to be so fascinating nonetheless because these campaigns happened in a time when the Moorish aesthetic had fully merged into the Portuguese style, and maritime explorations were a kind of norm.  Thus the new buildings were naturally going to reflect these mixed styles and can be looked at as a kind of document of a navigator/discoverers sketchbook.  The whole palace is a giant synergy of 10th century Moorish, Portuguese kingdom, and maritime discovery.  Oh yea, and not to mention the personal interest of King Ferdinand II in German Renaissance architecture.  If this was possible, the creation of such an odd style, later known as the Manueline style, what else could be possible?  I am just glad it is still around so that one can ever forget the unexpected, but forever latent myriad of cultural synergies to be had. 


Where tropical meets medieval.  Sintra castle from the 19th century

Where tropical meets medieval. Sintra castle from the 19th century


Just a short walk from the above castle, a 10th century Moorish military castle.

Just a short walk from the above castle, a 10th century Moorish military castle.

NAtional Palace, Chapel that remains from the 10th and 12th century

NAtional Palace, Chapel that remains from the 10th and 12th century



National Palace, Domed space, decor resembling that of an Islamic style in its nature motif, and repeated patterns


National Palace

National Palace, the same room as above but decorated in blue and white tiles, resembling both china (as in like porcelain),and an Islamic design technique, but with scenes of royalty hunting, a more European subject matter.




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