Mafra, Palace and Convent of

   One of the Iberian Peninsula's largest structures, Mafra Palace and Convent remains Portugal's most colossal historic monument-building. About 48 kilometers (30 miles) north-northwest of Lisbon, the complex is located in the town of Mafra, one of Portugal's most ancient settlements. First ordered built by the extravagant King João V in 1711, Mafra Palace was not completed until decades later by poorly paid labor. With perhaps the larger building of Phillip II of Spain's Escorial Palace and Convent in mind, King João V dedicated the rival enterprise to celebrating the birth of a child to his Austrian queen; this child, who was a girl, became queen of Spain. A veritable army of workers — at one time 45,000—constructed the massive building, which some thought would never be completed. In fact, after it was finally begun in 1717, the building was finished in 1735.
   The most extravagant project of João's expansive reign, Mafra Palace and Convent are heavy in style and spirit, but this is offset by the magnificent baroque library and the music that comes from the 50-bell carillon that is still in use. The wonders of Mafra can be imagined from just a few of the building figures; there are, for example, 5,200 doorways and 2,500 windows. Some of the wealth in royal coffers that paid for Mafra came from "the King's Fifth," out of the diamonds and gold in Portugal's richest colony, Brazil. The manner in which this historic monument is utilized not only as a tourist site, but also for a variety of other purposes, is a fascinating case of Portugal as a "museum-state." Mafra today provides space for two museums, offices of the Mafra City Hall (Câmara Municipal), an elementary school, and an army regiment. It is also used as a church.
   See also Architecture.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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