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A view of the Palace and centre of the town
|• President||Basílio Horta (PS)|
|• Total||319.23 km2 (123.26 sq mi)|
|Elevation||175 m (574 ft)|
|Lowest elevation||0 m (0 ft)|
|• Density||1,200/km2 (3,100/sq mi)|
|Time zone||WET/WEST (UTC+0/+1)|
A view of the Palace and centre of the town
|• President||Basílio Horta (PS)|
|• Total||319.23 km2 (123.26 sq mi)|
|Elevation||175 m (574 ft)|
|Lowest elevation||0 m (0 ft)|
|• Density||1,200/km2 (3,100/sq mi)|
|Time zone||WET/WEST (UTC+0/+1)|
|Cultural Landscape of Sintra|
|Name as inscribed on the World Heritage List|
|Criteria||ii, iv, v|
|UNESCO region||Europe and North America|
|Inscription||1995 (19th Session)|
Sintra (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈsĩtɾɐ]) is a town and a municipality in the Grande Lisboa subregion (Lisbon Region) of Portugal. The municipality contains two cities: Queluz and Agualva-Cacém. The population in 2011 was 377,835, in an area of 319.23 km².
Sintra is known for its many 19th-century Romantic architectural monuments, which has resulted in its classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Although its heritage in buildings and nature is the most visible face of the historic individuality of Sintra, a whole literary heritage has made the area a legendary reference in Portuguese culture. It has become a major tourist centre, visited by many day-trippers who travel from the urbanized suburbs and capital of Lisbon. In addition to the Sintra Mountains and Sintra-Cascais Nature Park, the parishes of the town of Sintra are dotted by royal retreats, estates, castles and other buildings, including the Castelo dos Mouros, the Pena National Palace and the Sintra National Palace.
It was in Penha Verde, that the earliest remnants of human occupation were discovered: these vestiges testify to an occupation dating to the early Paleolithic. Comparable remnants were discovered in an open-air site in São Pedro de Canaferrim, alongside the chapel of the Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle), date back to the Neolithic, and include decorated ceramics and microlithic flintutensils from the fifth century B.C. Probably, between the fourth and third millennia B.C., the region was occupied (adjacent to the actual village of Sintra) by a Neolithic/Chalcolithic settlement, from the presence of ceramic fragments, whose characteristics were comparable to fortified settlements in Lisbon and Setúbal, as well as many of the comparable late Chalcolithic vases that punctuated the Sintra mountains. The evidence discovered in Quinta das Sequoias and São Pedro de Canaferrim contrast dramatically with those remnants discovered in the walled town of Penha Verde and the funerary monument of Bella Vista. Traces of several Bronze Age vestiges were also discovered in many places in the Sintra Mountains, including alongside the town, in the Monte do Sereno area, and a late Bronze Age settlement within the Moorish Castle dating to the 9th-6th century B.C. Relatively close, in Santa Eufémia da Serra, is an Iron Age settlement, artifacts from indigenous tribes and peoples of Mediterranean origins (principally from the Punic period) were also discovered. These vestiges date from the early 4th century, prior to the Romanization of the peninsula, which in the area of Foz do Tejo took place in the middle of the 2nd century.
The close vicinity to a large commercial centre (Olisipo) founded by Turduli tribes, in the first half of the first millennium A.D., meant that the region of Sintra was influenced by human settlement throughout various epochs, resulting in remnants and vestiges from these cultures. The toponymy, Sintra, which derives from the medieval Suntria, and points to an association with radical Indo-European cultures; the word translates into bright star or sun, commonly used in their cultures. Marcus Terentius Varro and Cadizian Lucio Junio Moderato Columela designated the place as Monte Sagrado (the sacred mountain); and Ptolemy referred to it as the Serra da Lua (mountains of the moon).
During the Roman occupation of the peninsula, the region of Sintra was part of the vast Civitas Olisiponense, which Cesar (around 49 B.C.), or more likely, Octavius (around 30 B.C.), issued the statute of Municipium Civium Romanorum. The various residents of the region were considered part of the Roman Galeria, and in the actual village of Sintra, there are actual Roman vestiges, presupposing a Roman presence from the 1st-2nd century B.C. to 5th century A.D. A similar roadway along the southeast part of the Sintra Mountains dates back to this period and connected to the main road to Olissipo. This via followed the current Rua da Ferraria, the Calçada dos Clérigos and the Calçada da Trindade. Following Roman habit of locating tombs along their roads and near their homes, there is also evidence of inscriptions pertaining to Roman funeral monuments, dating principally to the 2nd century.
It was during the Moorish occupation of Sintra (Arabic: Xintara) that Greco-Latin writers wrote of the explicit occupation of the area of the town centre. A description by the geographer Al-Bacr, described Sintra as "one of the towns that [are] dependent on Lisbon in Al-Andalus, in the proximity to the sea", characterizing it as "permanently submersed in a fog that never dissipates".
During the Reconquista (around the 9th century), its principal centre and castle were isolated by Christian armies. Following the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba, the King of Léon, Alfonso VI received in the spring of 1093, the cities of Santarém, Lisbon and the Castle of Sintra. This followed a period of internal instability within the Muslim taifas of the peninsula, and in particular the decision by the King of Badajoz, Umar ibn Muhammad al-Mutawakkil, who placed his territory under the protection (suzerainty) of Alfonso VI from the Almoravid (after hesitating between 1090 and 1091). Afonso VI took the cities and castle of Sintra between 30 Abril and 8 May 1093, but Lisbon was, shortly after its transfer, conquered by the Almoravid, along with Sintra. Santarém was saved by Henry, Count of Portugal, who Afonso VI nominated as Count of Portugal in 1096, to substitute Raymond of Burgandy.
In this context, in July 1109, Count Henry reconquered the Castle of Sintra. This was preceded, a year before, by Prince Sigurd the Crusader, son of Magnus III of Norway, who attempted to capture the Castle from the Moors in the course of his trek to the Holy Land. Sigurd's forces disembarked at the mouth of the Colares River but failed to take the castle. It was only after the conquest of Lisbon, in October 1147, by Afonso Henriques (and supported by Crusaders), that the castle surrendered in November. It was integrated into Christian dominions along with Almada and Palmela after their surrender, Afonso Henriques established the Church of São Pedro de Canaferrim, within the walls of the Moorish Castle to mark his success.
On 9 January 1154, Afonso Henriques signed a foral (charter) for the town of Sintra, with all its respective regalia. The charter established the municipality of Sintra, whose territory encompassed a large area, that was eventually divided into four great parishes: São Pedro de Canaferrim (its seat in the castle); São Martinho (its seat in the town of Sintra); Santa Maria; and São Miguel (whose seat was in the ecclesiastical seat of Arrabalde). The early municipal seat, the town of Sintra, was the centre of a significant Sephardic community, with a synagogue and quarter. This was not only limited to Sintra town, but enclaves existed in Colares, referred during the reign of King Denis, but were heavily pressured by the influx of Christian serfs. Throughout the 12 and 13th century, owing to the fertile lands, various convents and monasteries, in addition to military orders, constructed residences, estates, water-mills and vineyards. There are municipal records during this period of a number of donations/grants; between 1157 and 1158, Afonso Henriques donated to the master of Knights Templar, Gualdim Pais, various houses and estates in the centre of Sintra. In 1210, the Monastery of Santa Cruz in Coimbra, acquired four houses in Pocilgais, releasing them in 1230, while in 1264, it controlled the homes and vineyards in Almargem. The Monastery of São Vicente de Fora (Lisbon), in 1216, also held a vineyard in Colares and, in 1218, estates in Queluz and Barota. Sometime between 1223 and 1245, the Monastery of Santa Maria de Alcobaça possessed various privileges in the territory. The military Order of Santiago held in 1260 a estate in Arrifana. Many of Afonso Henriques' donations between 12th and 13th century, including privileges assigned to these institutions, were confirmed in 1189 by his son, Sancho I (1185–1211), corresponding to a social, political and economic strategy during the post-Reconquista era. Consequently, after 1261, Sintra had a local administration consisting of an alcalde representing the Crown, and two local judges, elected by the public. During the political conflict between King Sancho II (1223–1248) and the Church, the churches of São Pedro and São Martinho, which belonged to the King, were ceded to the Bishop of Lisbon and Sé. Yet, the Crown's patrimony was defined early: in 1287, King Denis donated to Queen Elizabeth of Portugal the town, the signeurial holdings and all associated benefits inherent with those privileges. Later, these lands were transferred to the young Infante Afonso (later King Afonso IV), and remained in his possession until 1334, before reverting to the Queen's possessions (Portuguese: Casa da Rainha).
The Black Death arrived in Sintra around the 14th century; in 1350, the disease caused the death of five municipal scribes. Owing to the cooler climate and humidity, it is likely that the conditions were favourable for the rapid propagation of the disease, resulting in far greater numbers of deaths.
During the reign of King Ferdinand (1367–1383), Sintra played a part in the controversial marriage of the monarch with Dona Leonor Telles de Menezes. In 1374, the King donated Sintra to the Lady Teles, with whom he eventually married, in secret, in the north of the country. The King conceded along with Sintra, the municipalities of Vila Viçosa, Abrantes and Almada, to the consternation of his private counsel; following one of these confrontations, the King abandoned his duties, and travelled to Sintra, where he remained for a month, on the pretense of hunting. Being located relatively close to Lisbon, many of its people were called to work on projects for the Crown in the capital: in 1373, King Ferdinand decided to wall the city, and request funds or workers from lands along the sea in Almada, Sesimbra, Palmela, Setúbal, Coina, Benavente and Samora Correia, as well as all of the Ribatejo; and from the interior places of Sintra, Cascais, Torres Vedras, Alenquer, Arruda, Atouguia, Lourinhã, Telheiros and Mafra. During the Dynastic Crisis (between 1383–1385), Sintra supported Leonor Teles, who supported the proclamation of her daughter, Beatrice, who married John I of Castile, as Queen of Portugal and of Castile. After the defeat of the Castilian army at Aljubarrota (August 1385) by Portuguese and English troops, commanded by Nuno Álvares Pereira, Sintra became one of the last places to surrender to the Master of Aviz, later King of Portugal (after 1383). John (1385–1433), first King of the second dynasty, broke the tradition of transferring Sintra to the Casa da Rainha (Queen's property). Likely around 1383, John I granted the lands of Sintra to Count Henrique Manuel de Vilhena, which he quickly revoked after Henrique took the Infanta's side during the dynastic quarrel. Sintra, therefore, continued to be a possession of the King, who expanded the local estate. Until the end of the 17th century, the royal palace constituted one of the principal residences and summer estates of the court: it was from this estate that John decided to conquer Ceuta (1415); King Afonso V was born and died at the palace (1433–1481); and King John II was acclaimed sovereign (1481–1495).
In a document issued by King Edward (1433–1438), the region was described (in 1435) as: "A land of good air and water and of the Comarcas with an abundance in the sea and land, and because our most loyal city of Lisbon, being so near, and being in it sufficient diversions, and the distractions of the mountains and hunting...".
During the Portuguese Age of Discovery, several people born in Sintra were written into history: Gonçalo de Sintra, squire in the House of the Infante Henry (who was sent by the royal in 1443, as captain of a caravel to the coast of Africa), explored the region near the Ouro River and eventually died there in 1444. It was Pedro de Sintra and Soeiro da Costa that who later mapped the maximum extent of the Atlantic coast of Africa, on the date of Henry's death (1460).
The importance of Sintra on official itineraries lead, at the end of the 15th century, Queen Eleanor of Viseu (wife of King John II), then principal benefactor of the Portuguese Misericóridas, expanded her principal institutions in Sintra. The Hospital e Gafaria do Espírito Santo, the only remnant of which left standing is a chapel to São Lázaro, was constructed to provide assistance and support to lepers in the region (the chapel still includes the signets of King John, the pelican, and Queen Leonor, the shrimp). In 1545, the Hospital was transferred to the administration of the Santa Casa da Misericórdia of Sintra which was instituted by Queen Catherine of Austria, wife of John III.
King Manuel I (1495–1521), enjoyed spending his summers in Sintra, due to its cool climate and abundance of hunt; as Damião de Góis, his chronicler noted: "because its one of the places in Europe that is cooler, and cheerful for whichever King, Prince or Master, to pass their time, because, in addition to its good airs, that cross its mountains, called by the older peoples the promontory of the moon, there is here much hunting of deer and other animals, and overall many and many good trout of many type, and in which in all of Hispania there can be found, and many springs of water...". Between the 15th and 16th century, the King transformed and enriched the town and its region, with several public works, after he travelled to Crown of Castile and the Crown of Aragon, when he was being considered the heir to the Kingdoms (1498). These included the reconstruction of the old Gothic Church of São Martinho, the construction of the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena (1511) on the highest peak in the Sintra Mountains, for which he then transferred title to the Order of Saint Jerome. In the second half of the 16th century, Sintra was a centre of courtesans, and members of the aristocracy began building estates and farms within the region. In this rural environment the Viceroy of India, D. João de Castro(1500–1548), after 1542, began to reside at Quinta da Penha Verde, where he collected artistic examples of the Portuguese culture of the time, including works by celebrated artist Francisco de Holanda. It was during this cultural Renaissance that the marble chancel, sculpted by Nicolau Chanterene between 1529 and 1532 for the chapel of the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena was completed, as was the portico of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Ulgueira (1560).
Luís de Camões (1524–1580) referred to the mountains of Sintra in his Os Lusíadas chronicle, as a mythic land, subjugated by the water nymphs. The Renaissance poet Luisa Sigea—Syntrae Aloisiae Sygeae in Paris (1566) and Madrid (1781) referred to Sintra as a "pleasent valley, between cliffs that rise into the heavens, is curved in graceful hills among whom one can feel the murmur of the waters...[where] everything, in fact, will enchant and perfume the environment with its fragrance and fruit."
With the death of the Cardinal-King Henry (1578–1580), Philip II of Spain inherited the Kingdom of Portugal, initiating a personal union of the crowns that would last until 1640. During this period, Portuguese political power moved from Sintra to Vila Viçosa, principal centre of the House of Braganza, whose dukes, descendents of John of Portugal, were heirs to the throne of Portugal. Following the decision of the Cortes of Tomar in 1590, Phillip, as King of Portugal, respected local administration composed of the Portuguese aristocracy, and passed through Sintra (around October 1581), visiting the monasteries and churches. It was also during this period that cult of Sebastanism, the hope of the return of King Sebastian, came to an end, when several fake "Sebastians" were denounced. It was the case, in 1585, of Mateus Alvares, born on the island of Terceira (in the Azores) and guardian of the hermitage of São Julio, who passed himself off as King Sebastian, and created conflict in Sintra, Madra, Rio de Mouro and Ericeira. The Sebastian adventure ended with the hanging of thirty people and the suffering of many more. It was not surprising, therefore, that the visit in 1619, by King Phillip IV of Spain (Phillip III of Portugal) resulted in the escape to the hills of many families. During this union (1580–1640), Sintra was a privileged place for Portuguese "exiles" from the Castilian court; nobles who wished to distance themselves from Spanish nobility would purchase lands in the region, away from the intrigues of court. At the time of the Restoration, in 1639, the municipality had approximately 4000 residents.
The war with Spain (1640–1668), the affirmation of Mafra during the reign of John V of Portugal (1706–1750) through the construction of the Palace-Convent, and later the construction of Royal Palace of Queluz (in 1747) during the reigns of Joseph I of Portugal (1750–1777) and Maria I of Portugal (1777–1816), helped to diminish the visits to the region. During this era, there were only two documented visits: in 1652 and 1654, respectively, during the visit of Queen Luísa de Gusmão and King John IV of Portugal (1640–1656); and the final burial of King Afonso VI.
Alleging the mental insanity of the King, and the incapacity of the heir, the Duke of Cadaval and the Infante Peter, lead a coup d'état in 1667, which resulted in the resignation of the Count of Castelo-Melhor, Minister of King Afonso VI (1656-1633) and the imprisonment of the monarch. The Cortes of Lisbon in 1668, confirmed the Infante Peter, brother of the king, as regent and heir. Afonso VI lived the rest of his life imprisoned, in the Paço da Ribeira (1667–1669), in the Fort of São João Baptista in Angra, in the Azores (1669–1674) and, in the end, with the discovery of a conspiracy to kill the regent, in the Paço da Vila in Sintra (1674–1683).
Between the 17th and 18th century, the region was centre of contemplative religious orders, who established convents in Sintra. But it continued to remain a place of myths, with a large, mysterious forest, and macabre, gloomy spaces that affected the brave kings. Father Baião, in his Portugal Cuidadoso (1724) noted: "Next to the Palace of Sintra was a forest, so thick, that during the day, it cast fear in he who entered it. And [King] D. Sebastian, was free from these fears, that he would walk a night through it many times for two or three hours." Sintra became known as a nostalic and mysterious route defined by many foreigners, starting in the second half of the 18th century and lasting through the 19th century; it was the Romantic Glorioso Eden of Lord Byron; the pleasent resort of Almeida Garrett; the "nest of lovers [where in] the romantic foliage, the nobles abandoned themselves in the hands of the poets", as Eça de Queirós opined; or the stop, where Richard Strauss saw a garden "comparable to Italy, Sicilly, Greece or Egypt, a true garden of Klingsor, and there in the heights, a castle of the Holy Grail".
The 1755 Lisbon earthquake, meanwhile, caused the destruction in the centre of Sintra, in addition to deaths, resulting in construction and restoration during the second half of 18th century.
Still in the 18th century, the first industrial building was established in the municipality: the Fábrica de Estamparia de Rio de Mouro (Mouro River Stamping Factory) in 1778.
The visit of Queen Maria I in 1787, caused the restoration and redecoration of a few salons and chambers in the municipal buildings. But, the great festivals, in 1795, resulting from the baptism of the Infante António, son of John VI, resulted in grande balls at the Palace of Queluz. The King-Consort, Ferdinand II bought the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Pena, and a vast area adjacent (in 1838) who he commissioned the architect José de Costa e Silva, to construct the arch joining the two quarters of the Seteais Palace (owned by the Marquess of Marialva), to commemorate in 1802, the visit the princes of Brazil, the InfanteJoão and Carlota Joaquina, and later the their son, the absolutist King Miguel, in 1830.
During the third quart of the 18th century, and practically all of the 19th century, the Romanticism of foreign travellers and Portuguese aristocrats rediscovered the magic of Sintra and its places, overall in the exoticism in its landscape and climate. In the summer of 1787, William Beckford stayed with the Marquess of Marialva, master of the horse for the kingdom, at his residence of Seteais. Princess Carlota Joaquina, wife of the Regent John, bought, at the beginning of the 19th century, the estate and Palace of Ramalhão. Between 1791 and 1793, Gerard Devisme constructed on his extensive estate, a Neo-Gothic mansion in the Quinta de Monserrate (later becoming known as the Monserrate Palace). Beckford, who remained in Sintra, rented the property from Devisme in 1794. The landscape, covered in fog, also attracted another Englishman, Francis Cook, who occupied the estate, constructing an oriental pavilion.
The Palace of Pena, the exemplar Portuguese Romantic symbol of Sintra, was initiated by the King-Consort Ferdinand, husband of Queen Maria of Portugal (1834-1853), a German-born member of the House of Saxe-Cobourg-Gotha. The Palace was constructed over the remains of the old monastery of the Order of Saint Jerome in the 16th century, conserving many of the fundamental aspects, including the church, cloister and a few dependencies. The architecture is an eclectic design, influenced by many architectural styles. The design was a project of the Baron von Eschwege and Ferdinand II, to substitute the Sintra National Palace as a summer residence, and alternate destination to the summer residence in Cascais. After Sintra, in the months of September and October, the monarchs Louis of Portugal (1861-1889) and Carlos of Portugal ended their summers with visits to Cascais. In 1854, the first contract was signed to construct a raillink to connect Sintra to Lisbon. A decree, signed on 26 June 1855, regulated the contract between the government and Count Claranges Lucotte, which was later rescinded in 1861. The final connect was finally inaugurated on 2 April 1887.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Sintra was recognized as a summer place, visited by aristocrats and millionaires. Among these, Carvalho Monteiro, owner of a considerable fortune (known as "Monteiro dos Milhões") constructed, near the main town on an estate he bought from the Baroness of Regaleira, a luxurious revivalist palacette, based on a Neo-Manueline architecture.
Between the second half of the 19th century, and the first decades of the 20th century, Sintra turned into a privileged place for artists: musicians, such as Viana da Mota; composers, such as Alfredo Keil; painters, like Cristino da Silva (the author of one of the most celebrated canvases of Portuguese Romantic art, "Cinco Artistas em Sintra"); writers, such as Eça de Queirós or Ramalho Ortigão, all these people resided, worked or obtained inspiration from the Sintran landscapes.
The proclamation of a Portuguese Republic in 1910, transformed the bohemian climate of Sintra. After 1910, economic development was promoted; the potential benefits in agriculture, industry and commerce to the region, especially after the 1908 delimitation of a vineyard zone in Colares, was used to foster development in the region. A commission was established to monitor the quality of wines, promote its exportation, and by 1914 commercial association (Portuguese: Associação Comercial e Industrial de Sintra) established to manage their concession. Meanwhile, in the name of secular and popular "progress", cultural heritage was demolished, including the annexes of the medieval village bordering the Palace (1911) and the nave of the Church of the Misericórdia, was reduced to the presbytery for the benefit of a simple expansion of the road. The first decades of the 20th century represents the most rapid urbanization of the municipality, supported by its rail-link to Lisbon, and summer travellers.
The attack on patrimony lead to the creation of institutions, in the second half of the 20th century, to study and protect the vast artistic patrimony during the 1920s. The Instituto Histórico de Sintra (Historic Institute of Sintra), under the direction of Afonso de Ornelas, had an important part to play in this period. Archaeological studies resulted in considerable development: in 1927, Félix Alves Pereira rediscovered the Neolithic settlements of Santa Eufémia, and the first publication of the discoveries at the prehistoric monuments of Praia das Maçãs were completed in 1929. From this period, until the 1970s, coastal Sintra began to become a summer destination, resulting in the construction of Portuguese summer homes. In this area, many of the important Portuguese architects developed projects in the first half of the 20th century, including Raul Lino, Norte Júnior and Tertuliano de Lacerda Marques. These project benefited the town and region, resulting in the natural growth of tourism and the residence of many notable Portuguese: historian Francisco Costa; writer Ferreira de Castro; scultpure Anjos Teixeira; architects Norte Júnior and Raul Lino; painters Eduardo Viana, Milly Possoz and Vieira da Silva; poet Oliva Guerra; composer and maestro Frederico de Freitas; historian Felix Alves Pereira and João Martins da Silva Marques.
An urban anarchy predominated until the middle of the 1980s, in the regions adjacent the main town of Sintra, resulting in new neighbourhoods. The 1949 municipal plan by De Groer, was elaborated to defend the town and its neighbourhood, from out of control urbanization, and resulted in the maintenance of an environment comparable to the 19th century Sintra.
Considered the Monte da Lua (Mountain of the Moon), or Promontorium Lunae, by the strong tradition of astral cults within the Sintra Mountains. The mountains, a massif granite surface, that stretches ten kilometres, abruptly emerging between a vast plain in the north and the northern margin of the Tagus River estuary, in a serpentine cordillera that winds towards the Atlantic Ocean and Cabo da Roca, the most westerly extent of continental Europe.
The São João platform, along the northern flank of the Sintra Mountains, has altitudes between 100 metres (110 yd) and 150 metres (160 yd), while the southern part of the mountains, the Cascais platform, is relatively lower in altitude: sloping from 150 metres (160 yd) to the sea, terminating along the coast, around 30 metres (33 yd) above sea level. The spectacular relief results from the east to west orientation along the massif's axis, its terminus at the coast, and the nature of igneous rocks, which are resistant to erosion. The Eruptive Massif of Sintra (MES) is a dome structure, formed by layers of sedimentary rocks (limestones and sandstones) from the Upper Jurassic and early Cretaceous periods. A metamorphosed igneous intrusion, resulted in a narrow halo of metamorphic rocks, but also strongly deformed these sedimentary layers, causing a vertical exposure. While in the south there are enclosed sedimentary layers, to the north (around Praia Grande) the massif is steep. The sedimentary formations, until the beginning of the Upper Cretaceous, are deformed by the intrusion which limits the MES to the end the Cretaceous. The radiometric aging of different rocks from the massif indicated an age between 80 and 75 million years (confirming the installation of the massive Upper Cretaceous).
The geodynamic conditions that controlled the formation of the MES (correlated with the development of the Sines and Monchique Eruptive Massifs) are associated with the progressive northern expansion of the Atlantic Ocean and the consequent opening of the Bay of Biscay. The Bay of Biscay's expansion resulted in complex tensions responsible for profound fractures in the earth's crust, that were conduits for the ascension of magma. This magma spread across the surface as a superficial crust, with a depth of 5 kilometres (200,000,000 mils) around 80 million years ago between sedimentary layers (160 to 9 million years old) that were chemically metamorphosed. Over time the magma chamber cooled and crystallized, resulting in conditions that caused the granular textures that characterize the MES. The weaker sedimentary layers were susceptible to erosion, and their products were deposited around their base. Consequently, the massif likely became exposed during the Paleogenic epoch (30 million years ago), known as the Benfica Complex.
The Mediterranean climate, influenced by the Atlantic, is typical of continental Portugal, characterized by moderate temperatures and wet winters. Although the climate in area of Cabo da Roca is semi-arid, the Sintra Mountains is considered moderately humid. In fact, precipitation in the mountains are more elevated then in the areas circling the mountains. The position of the municipality, within the natural landscape of the Sintra Mountains (consisting of an exuberant natural patrimony), is influenced by the existence of a micro-climate. For different reasons (the climate here has been proportioned by the Sintra Mountains; the fertility of the lands deposited; and its relative proximity to the Tagus estuary) the region has attracted a large early settlement. Due to its micro-climate, a huge park has developed, full of rich, dense foliage, with a rich botanical diversity, constituting groups of a national forest.
Situated along the coast, the temperate climate and humidity, favours the growth of a rich mat of forest, that includes species of Atlantic and Mediterranean species, marking the transition from northern to southern vegetation of the country. The Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica) predominantly covers a great expansion of the rocky heights, and sheltered slopes. Along moist, shady slopes, normally facing north or in sheltered places the common oak (Quercus robur) are common, in lowlands and warm places the Cork oak (Quercus suber), while in areas of limestone the Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea) are common. In addition, there are other species that scattered throughout the mountains of Sintra, that include: maples (Acer pseudoplatanus), common hazel (Corylus avellana), common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), European holly (Ilex aquifolium), Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica), Bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), Laurestine (Viburnum tinus), Kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), and Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus). Along the valleys, near the courses of the waterways, grow Narrow-leaf ash (Fraxinus angustifolia), Grey willow (Salix atrocinerea), European alder (Alnus glutinosa), Alder bukthorn (Rhamnus frangula) and Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).
Since 1966, the Sintra Mountains has been affected by fires that have destroyed a major part of the original forest, which has been substituted by acacia and other fast-growing exotic species. The forested area of the Sintra mountains is about 5,000 hectares (50 km2), of which 26% (1,300 hectares (13 km2)) are maintained by the State, through the Direcção Geral de Florestas-Núcleo Florestal de Sintra (General Directorate of Forests: Sintra Forestry Service).
Sintra has grown considerably in the late 20th century, passing from about 14% of the region of Lisbon to 19%, with the concentration of resident population be found in the important Queluz-Portela corridor, along the southeast corner of the municipality. This region concentrated approximately 82% of the municipalities population, with the most attractive parishes being limited to São Pedro de Penaferim, Rio de Mouro, Belas and Algueirão-Mem Martins.
With the decrease in mortality rates, the region has undergone a general increase in infant births, primarily associated with late births, but also an increase in seniors in the community (56.5% in 2001). Yet, Sintra is still considered the municipality with a structurally young population, the youngest in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Lisbon. Young adults (30-39 year olds) dominate communities of Sintra, with the parishes of Pêro Pinheiro, Terrugem, São Martinho, São João das Lampas, Santa Maria e São Miguel, Montelavar, Colares, Queluz and Almargem do Bispo, with higher rates of seniors or dependent seniors in the population. Approximately 80% of the population are born outside the municipality, with 21% of these numbers being foreign born residents. While the resident population in Lisbon has seen a gentle decrease since the mid-1960s, Sintra has grown comparably.
Urban areas represent 55.4 square kilometres (5,540 ha) of the municipality, or approximately 17.4% of Sintra's territory), of which 35% of the population reside in places of between 50,000 and 100,000 inhabitants. Many of these areas are anchored to the lines of accessibility, and in particular, the Sintra Line and IC19 motorway, that connects the principal cities of Queluz, Agualva-Cacém, Algueirão/Mem Martins, Rio de Mouro and Belas). Many of these urban areas are composed of a fabric of building projects that have historically resulted in dense buildings of concrete, normally seven or more floors in height. The greatest growth in residential homes have occurred in the south of the municipality, in the triangle of São Pedro de Penaferrim, Santa Maria e São Miguel and Casal de Cambra. In addition, there is a major concentration and growth in family dwellings of a seasonal nature, or second-homes in this region, while a proliferation of illegal buildings/construction in the parishes of São João das Lampas, São Pedro de Penaferrim, Belas, Agualva-Cacém and Casal de Cambra.
The growth of tertiary activities have occupied an important place in employment in the region, with commercial, retail and support services predominating. This has been to the detriment of industrial activities; yet, industrial activities within the municipality continue to be the transport of materials, mineral processing, the manufacture of machinery and equipment, food-processing, beverage and tobacco companies, in addition to the editing industries and printing services. Comparably, there has been a dramatic growth in the civil construction industry.
According to recent statistics, Sintra's suburban railway is the most crowded suburban train system in Europe and IC19 (the highway from Lisbon to Sintra) is the most traffic-congested in Europe. Sintra's problems include major pendular movements to Lisbon, with intense traffic during rush hour on the IC19 road to Lisbon.
The municipality has a great number of preserved or classified architectural buildings:
Sintra is twinned with the following cities: