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Royal Building of Mafra – Palace, Basilica, Convent, Cerco Garden and Hunting Park (Tapada)

Date of Submission: 31/01/2017
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Portugal to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Mafra, Lisbon District
Coordinates: 38,936922 -9,326395
Ref.: 6211
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The cultural heritage property encompassing a Palace, a Basilica, a Convent, a Garden and a Hunting Park (Tapada) is the most representative work achieved during the reign of King João V and a property that although subject to different interventions, remains intact after more than 300 years of history.

The Royal Building of Mafra has its origin in a royal decree from 1711, which predicted the construction of a convent dedicated to Saint Anthony, presumably as a result of a vow made by King João V, who wished the birth of a son that might continue his dynasty, barely a half-century after Portugal’s restoration of independence by his grandfather (King João IV). The project, initially intended for 13 Franciscan friars, evolved in the following years to shelter 300 friars and a royal palace was associated to the Convent. As a result, a complex that first and foremost was designed for one of the strictest religious orders eventually became the most magnificent work of a monarch. The choice of the architect Johann Friedrich Ludwig, a Hungarian trained in Rome, contributed to defining this project as an international affirmation of the Portuguese reigning house.

The ongoing fascination of King João V for Rome, the city of the great popes of the Baroque period, led him to hire important artists to build and decorate Mafra, which became one of the most relevant places of Italian baroque outside Italy.

At the consecration of the Basilica, on 22 October 1730, the king's birthday, the complex was not yet complete, nor all works of art had arrived, but the plan had long been outlined: a royal palace equipped with two towers that, working independently, were the chambers of the royal couple; a basilica decorated with statues of the best Roman artists, and with an unusual set of French and Italian vestments unparalleled in the country; two towers on the facade that housed two carillons ordered to be built in Flanders and which constitute a unique bell heritage in the world; a library consisting of works of great scientific interest, and one of the few that foresaw the incorporation of the "forbidden books", among many other important features.

The altarpieces of the Basilica are from the following decades, designed by Alessandro Giusti (whose tercentenary of birth was celebrated in 2015), an artist of Italian origin that, in Mafra, started a true school of sculpture. It was also in Mafra that Joaquim Machado de Castro, the most important Portuguese sculptor of the eighteenth century, received his training. And it was in the huge construction site in Mafra that knowledge and practice was acquired by the rebuilders of Lisbon, deeply shaken by the 1755 earthquake and whose downtown (Baixa Pombalina) is one of the first ‘new city’ of the Enlightenment.

Also worthy of admiration are the six organs of the Basilica, a unique case in the world where the simultaneous design and conception of six organs that "dialogue" with each other was already foreseen in the original plan of the edifice. The project was handed to the organ builders António Machado Cerveira and Peres Fontanes. Carefully restored from 1994 on (a process awarded by Europa Nostra), they were heard together for the first time after restoration on May 15, 2010.

The palace continued to play its role as a Royal Palace until the end of the monarchy, and it was in Mafra that King Manuel II, last king of Portugal, spent the last night before leaving for exile in 1910. The convent was closed in 1834 and the building has since then hosted several military units that constitute, in itself, another chapter in the history of this complex, as they are linked to major military confrontations in which Portugal participated in the twentieth century and to the memoir of Portuguese army.

The Hunting Park of Mafra (Tapada), initially named the Royal Hunting Park of Mafra, it was created in 1747 to serve the needs of the convent and as a game reserve for the monarch and his court. In the late nineteenth century and beginning of the next century, the Hunting Park was the privileged stage for the hunting activities of King Carlos, who even promoted the construction of a pavilion inside the over 1200 hectares of the property. Today, it is a space of significant biodiversity, designed for forest and environmental management, hunting, and tourism. Within its walls are four Forts of the Lines of Torres, built during the Napoleonic Wars.

The Hunting Park of Mafra is home of a large number of Iberian endemic species of fauna and flora spread over different habitats (forests, woods, grasslands and riparian corridors). It is important to highlight among the existing Flora, consisting mainly of deciduous species, the presence of cerquinho-oak Quercus faginea, the cork oak Quercus suber, the ash tree Fraxinus excelsior and the black poplar Populus nigra. The red deer Cervus elaphus, fallow deer Cervus dama, wild boars Sus scrofa, foxes Vulpes vulpes, weasels Mustela nivalis, European polecats Mustela putorius, common genets Genetta genetta, wild rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus are the most iconic mammals that can be found in the wild in this forest park. In this group, we can also highlight the presence of 12 species of bats, with special emphasis on the Bechsteini bat Myotis bechsteini (the colony existing in the National Hunting Park of Mafra is one of the most important in Portugal). And additionally, more than 60 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians that make this forest an important natural heritage to be protected and an important living laboratory. Associated to this valuable diversity of fauna and flora, is the high value of conservation of some of these species, such as Bonelli's Eagle Aquilla fasciatus, the Eurasian eagle owl Bubo Bubo and the northern goshawk Accipiter gentilis.

The Cerco Garden began as a convent enclosure at the disposal of the friars, but in 1718 King John V ordered the planting of all kinds of existing wild trees in the Empire, in well-distributed beds with wide paths, which favoured the organization of the space in symmetrical plots. The area features a large central lake, where the waters from the Hunting Park of Mafra converge and an adjacent well attachment associated to a gigantic noria, already mentioned during the works of the palace. Also, in this area a curious Ball Game is preserved, built by the Canons Regular of St. Augustine, when they occupied the convent between 1771 and 1792.

In the surroundings of this vast complex there are other heritage elements that must be preserved, such as important traditions and literary references linked to the experiences of the space and its connection with the surrounding community. Particularly important is the religious dimension, manifested in the four processions during the Holy Week in Mafra. Originated during the eighteenth century, and still active today, these processions still evoke the Baroque and late-Baroque spirit of the place, and integrate works of art sculpted by some of the artists of the Sculpture School of Mafra. Also important are the immense set of memories regarding the soldiers who took part in the wars for independence of the former Portuguese colonies and the book ‘Memorial do Convent’ (Baltasar and Blimunda), one of the most important works of José Saramago, Nobel prize of literature in 1998, and whose story reminds the construction of the Royal Building of Mafra.

There are also other important features related to this property whose sheer size polarized the surrounding areas. The ‘Terreiro D. João V’, formerly named ‘Rossio de Mafra’, is one of those spaces. In 1716, when the piece of land that would become the palace was marked, a "dilated square" was planned in front of the main facade of the monument. It was there that were held, for centuries, fairs that seasonally enlivened the village. Smaller than the initial plan, today the Terreiro D. João V still provides a privileged view of the imposing architecture of the complex, which enhances its scenic character (structural aspect in the recent renovation of the square, promoted by the municipality in 2009). Mention should also be made to the complex hydraulic system, running throughout the subsoil that connects the Hunting Park (where water is captured), the convent and the palace, and the two water lines, northwest and southwest of the site, to where the water is carried in large channels.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The heritage complex Royal Building of Mafra formed by the Palace, Basilica, Convent, Garden Hunting Park (Tapada). The building is, in all respects, remarkable. It is noted for its brilliant and complex architectural design, notable for the quality and nature of the materials, and notable for the refinement and perfection of its marbles. Mafra was the first school of fine arts in the country, because it was in Mafra that the first ‘Aula do Risco’ took place, a drawing class instituted by King John V. In Mafra, not only architects and engineers were trained, but also highly specialized workers whose expertise later became fundamental in rebuilding Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake.

The Royal Building of Mafra was one of the first expressions of globalization. It was the influx of gold from Brazil to the kingdom that allowed King João V, not only to finance the construction, but also to order from all of Europe – France, Italy, Flanders – sculptures and paintings, vestments and religious adornments, etc.

From this entire complex, it is worth highlighting the following features:

  • The Monastic-Royal Library, one of the most important European libraries, true repository of masterpieces. The Library has a valuable collection of c. 30,000 volumes dating from the 15th to the 19th, centuries and covering diverse subjects such as theology, the Sermonária, the Canon and Civil law, History, Geography and Travel, Mathematics, Art and Music, Medicine, etc. . Remarkable for its rarity is the Incunabula collection as the "Orationes" of Cicero (1472), the 1st edition of Antiquitates Romanorum of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Homer's Opera Omnia (1448), the Chronicle of Nuremberg (1493) illuminated Books of Hours from the 15th century and also the first Encyclopedia of Diderot et D'Alembert.
  • The bell complex of Mafra It is the largest historic bell or musical set in the world. The two bell towers of Mafra include a remarkable set 120 bronze bells, with weights ranging from twelve tons up to 2.7 kg of high-tone bells that may be divided into three distinct groups: the hour bells, liturgical bells and the carillons. The two sets of hour bells exhibit the largest bells in the world from the 18th century, with about twelve tons each. The liturgical bells are a set of eleven bells of Portuguese and Italian foundry, built between 1730 and the end of the 19th century. The two carillons with 92 bells, are the largest carillons of the 18th century in the world. Each covering a range of four octaves, are therefore considered concert carillons. They were produced by two bell founders of the Netherlands, Willelm Witlockx, of Antwerp, and Nicolaus Levache of Liege. This complex also includes the largest known collection of watch systems and automatic melody cylinders, a worldwide mark in the study of both the automatic music and watch making.
  • The Six Organs of the Basilica are also unique in the world. Specifically designed, its construction was an innovative project, for considering an integrated set of six organs, instead of two large instruments connected to the upper choir of the church, as was usual. The existing six instruments, ordered by King João VI in the beginning of the 19th century to replace the primitive instruments that were degraded, were built by the most important Portuguese organ builders of their time - António Xavier Machado and Cerveira and Joaquim António Peres Fontanes. Their recent restoration received a Europa Nostra award.
  • The statuary of the Basilica is one of the most significant collection of Italian Baroque sculpture outside Italy, from which stand out names like Carlo Monaldi, Filippo de la Valle and Pietro Bracci. Composed of 58 statues, various reliefs and a Christ in Glory with Angels, the sculptures are all of white Carrara marble. The set also includes terracota studies of the statues, sent from Rome for royal approval, since the monarch formulated very specific requirements, whether in terms of "perfection" and material quality (very white marble) or in terms of the iconographic rigor. These statues served as a paradigm for the formation of several generations of Portuguese artists, making Mafra one of the most important diffusing centre of the Roman baroque style at the time.
  • The royal painting collection was a royal commission for the convent and includes works by some of the greatest masters of the time, as Agostino Masucci, Francesco Trevisani, Sebastiano Conca and Pierre-Antoine Quillard as well as the Portuguese André Gonçalves Oliveira Bernardes and Vieira Lusitano who were fellows of King in Rome.
  • The Sculpture School of Mafra, created by King José I, under the direction of the Italian Master Alessandro Giusti, having passed through this school several Portuguese artists like Machado de Castro, and whose influence came to Brazil. It was the first initiative to implement a regulated artistic education in Portugal, with an official and organized educational system, that was considered at the time the first and "most numerous school of sculpture, we have had in the kingdom."
  • The Hunting Park of Mafra was created for the leisure of the court and frequently visited by the royal family until 1910, year of establishment of the Portuguese Republic. Furthermore, it was used to provide wood and other products for the convent and the court. In 1843, after the establishment of the liberal regime, a Royal model farm was established for the development of agriculture, forestry and horse breeding in the region. The Hunting Park also had an important role in the replanting of the vineyard after the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th century to serve as a nursery for American vines that were sent from Mafra to the entire country. The Hunting Park is now an important nature reserve whose main objective is the research and the preservation of fauna and flora, forest management, environmental education, hunting activity and the provision of services for rural tourism.

Criterion (i): The complex formed by Palace, Basilica, Convent, Garden and Hunting Park of Mafra represents a masterpiece of human creative genius. Important national and foreign artists of the baroque period collaborated in its construction and decoration, as well as artists linked to relevant commissions of papal Rome. A huge anonymous mass of skilled workers of whom there are no historical identity records were involved in its construction - according to the sources of that time, between 40,000 to 45,000 workers simultaneously.

Criterion (ii): The Royal Building of Mafra shows an important exchange of human and artistic values at several moments of its history. Originally, the palace and convent had the architectural design, sculpture and painting of artists trained by Rome in the first decades of the eighteenth century, where one of the most outstanding baroque schools of Europe thrived. The construction of this huge complex was only possible due to the wealth provided by the exploration of gold in Brazil (territory which is today the state of Minas Gerais), whose transportation was carried out through the Gold Route to Paraty or Rio de Janeiro and from there by ship to the port of Lisbon. The international nature of Mafra’s prodigious enterprise can be compared to the great Baroque palaces of the main royal European houses of the eighteenth century, while including artistic outstanding elements such as the two carillons of the main facade towers, unique in the world, that were commissioned in Flanders; the vestments of the Basilica acquired in France and Italy; abundant travel literature about this magnificent construction which became widespread throughout Europe, produced by the many travellers who arrived in Mafra on the second half of the eighteenth century. The In Hunting Park, every kind of tree that at the time existed on the Portuguese empire (with territories in Brazil, Africa and the Far East) was planted.

Criterion (iv): The complex is directly related to the proximity that the royal house of Portugal achieved in relation to papal authority, by rivalry with the Spanish crown. It is this international dimension of affirmation of a dynastic house that is at the origin of the gigantism of the construction and the aesthetic choices that were made, symptomatically Italianizing and, in particular, borrowers of the Baroque focus of Rome. To this circumstance other features were added, that make this construction the main Baroque reference of the country and one of the most relevant in Europe, such as the carillons and the organs of the Basilica, a unique musical set in the world, which preserves many of its baroque features.

Criterion (vi): The complex is directly associated to the monarch, who had the cultural and material conditions to build a monument of true international impact. It is therefore an instrument of dynastic affirmation (the 4th Portuguese dynasty) in the international context, but also the affirmation of a baroque political-religious ideology, embodied in the king as the vertex of society. The intangible heritage connected to this complex is abundant, from the European travel literature of the eighteenth to the twentieth century, to the four processions created in the eighteenth century that remain active today, just as the solemn moments and the relevance of the Holy Week in Mafra, the memories of the military experiences of the twentieth century and, in particular, the book Memorial do Convento (Baltasar and Blimunda), written by José Saramago, awarded with the Nobel prize in 1998.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Palace, Convent, Basilica, Garden and National Hunting Park of Mafra shows authenticity and integrity and have been the object of several conservation works.

The Basilica preserves in situ almost all artistic and devotional objects from the Baroque period, in particular niches with statues commissioned by King João V and baroque altarpieces of the Sculpture School of Mafra. At the Casa da Fazenda (House of Finance), attached to the sacristy, the impressive set of baroque vestments is conserved, including the original furnishings and the set of candelabras and liturgical objects. The complex was also enriched with the restoration of the six organs and is now part of the European network of cities with historical organs (ECHO).

The Palace of Mafra became a museum in the first half of twentieth century, with the original furniture and other of historical elements channelled for this purpose. The rooms maintain in display numerous works of art that, from the eighteenth to twentieth century, are part of the history of the palace, from the large painting from the time of King João V, to the memories of the royal family of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the following century. The palace includes also residential spaces and facilities of great importance, such as royal chambers, equipped with oratories and autonomous communication between floors, the convent infirmary (the only ward of the eighteenth century still existing in Portugal), the convent kitchen and dining room (today used by the military), among many other places. The Library is a special case, due to the collection of great importance gathered there, eminently scientific, and the conditions created by the architectural piece adapted to the needs of a library has allowed enviable preservation conditions. Still in the palace area, worthy of mention is the existence of a comparative sculpture museum, made over the twentieth century, which includes numerous pieces of medieval, national and international art, which are relevant from a museum perspective.

The Cerco Garden still preserves the essential of its eighteenth-century structure. The large noria built in the eighteenth century is the most important piece, but the great central lake also remains, as well as the paths that fill this large space of an orthogonal and geometric mesh inherited from the original project. A notable part of the recreational areas of the Augustinian monks who occupied the former convent between 1771 and 1792, such as the ball game and some neoclassical statuary that punctuates the paths, are also preserved.

The Hunting Park of Mafra keeps its territory intact, bounded by a wall built in the eighteenth century that prolongs itself for an extension of over 16km. Today, its management is focused on environmental sustainability and for the formation of environmental values and conservation of fauna and flora. It also includes four of the Forts of the Lines of Torres.

Comparison with other similar properties

Several sovereign and European royal houses were important builders, such as Bourbon House (Palace of Versailles), the House of Habsburg (Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens), or even King Philip II, who erected at the Escorial site a large complex that includes palace, monastery, museum and library, the model that perhaps is the closest to Mafra.

These royal residences of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, by their characteristics, affirmed the power of the various monarchies, competing against each other in grandeur and splendour. The ostentation of luxury, so characteristic of the Baroque era, acquired a symbolic and political value, becoming a synonym of majesty and a materialization of the power of the monarchs themselves.

In this context, Mafra was thus one of the main ex-libris of the reign of King João V. It is one of the few European palaces built in such a short period of time, 18 years, following a coherent project and a single endeavour, directed by Johann Friedrich Ludwig, a trained goldsmith and later a military engineering officer in the Electorate of the Palatinate War. Ludwig lived then in Rome, where he developed his artistic knowledge, particularly in the areas of sculpture and architecture. The model adopted, although referring to consolidated traditions of Portuguese architecture, inspired by the papal Rome, a classicizing Baroque, influenced by Bernini and the Borrominiano towers, not forgetting several Germanic influences.

The Royal Building of Mafra, in the context in which it was built to channel gold from Brazil for major commissions a across Europe, encouraged and stimulated their economies, turns out to be one of the first expressions of globalization, at the same time allowing the affirmation of the Portuguese crown, pairing it at the same level, in luster and prestige, with the most important European ruling houses.

The National Palace of Mafra is a member of the European Royal Residences Association, which brings together the most prestigious palace-museum in Europe.