One of the most controversial kings in Portugal, João V, commissioned Johann Friedrich Ludwig, a German architect, a building of exquisite ambition. According to legend, the king chose Mafra for its location because of a promise he had made: if he was blessed with a male child, he would build a convent in that place.
The foundation works began in 1717, and were concluded in 1744. Tens of thousands of artisans and artists were needed to make it possible. Only the best, and finest of the available materials were used. In the end what was built was something much more than a convent: a basilica, a royal palace, a convent for three hundred friars, an enormous library, cloisters… All within the same structure. Some even call it a “city in marble”. The interiors are luxurious, superb, with inlaid pieces and sculptures of a very rich quality.
The building’s plant is quite close to Madrid’s Escorial, i.e., square and with almost 4km2. The predominant trait of the whole structure is its horizontality, derived from a typically Portuguese style, which one calls the “plain style”. The basilica stands in the centre, highly influenced by the Italian Catholic Baroque, with two belfries which today still make their carillons sound glorious. These are bulky towers, with German features. The façades are extended on both sides, and are closed by two massive towers, whose make-up is inspired by the ones found at the Paço de Lisboa (which were destroyed during the 1755 earthquake). One can say, in conclusion, that the whole Palace is a synthesis of the several Baroque styles of its time.
The building also inspired one of Nobel Laureate for Literature José Saramago’s most known novels, "Baltasar and Blimunda" (originally titled in Portuguese “Memorial do Convento”), whose plot focuses on the people who built it. (Palace: 10 am - -4.30 pm. Closed on Tuesdays. Basilica: 10 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 5 pm. €5. Free admittance Sundays and holidays until 2 pm).