Mafra Palace is a colossal Baroque and Italianized Neoclassical palace-monastery located in Mafra, Portugal, some 28 kilometres from Lisbon.
Construction lasted 13 years and mobilized a vast army of workers from the entire country (a daily average of 15,000 but at the end climbing to 30,000 and a maximum of 45,000), under the command of António Ludovice, the son of the architect. In addition 7,000 soldiers were assigned to preserve order at the construction site. They used 400 kg of gunpowder to blast through the bedrock for the laying of foundations. There was even a hospital for the sick or wounded workers. A total of 1,383 workers died during the construction.
This vast complex is among the most sumptuous and biggest Baroque buildings constructed in Europe in the 18th century.
The facade is 220 meters long. The whole complex covers 37,790 m² with about 1,200 rooms, more than 4,700 doors and windows, and 156 stairways.
The spacious royal apartments are situated on the second floor. The apartments of the king are situated at the end of the palace while the apartment of the queen is 200m away at the other end. Such was this distance that, when the king left his apartment towards the apartment of the queen, this was announced to the queen by the sound of a trumpet.
The king, wishing to rival the splendour of Rome, had sought architectural advice from his ambassador to the Vatican, who sent him small-scale models of important Roman religious buildings. The benedictial balcony at its centre is clearly mirrored on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. But this balcony is rather intended for the king, as a symbol of his power, than for the benedictions by a prelate.
The two church towers (68m high) are inspired by the towers of Sant’Agnese in Agone (by the Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini). Their two carillons contain a total of 92 church bells, founded in Antwerp. The story goes that the Flemish bell-founders were so astonished by the size of their commission, that they asked to be paid in advance. The king retorted by doubling the offered amount. These carillons constitute the largest historical collection in the world.
There are several legends regarding the palace. The most popular claims that giant rats, capable of eating people inhabit the palace and leave it at night in order to kill what they can, cats, dogs and people.