Quinta da Regaleira Palace: Sintra’s fairytale

IMG_0116 Regaleiro 260x

SET IN four hectares of land with luscious green shrubs, trees, and well-tended flower gardens, the Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra was opened to the public in the summer of 1998.

At the foot of the road just before the Seteais Palace Hotel, and looking like something straight out of a fairy tale, the present palace, with all its intricate carvings in wood and stone, was built by António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. Monteiro was born in 1848, the son of a wealthy Portuguese family who lived in Brazil and whose fortunes were made from the monopoly of the coffee trade and precious stones. In Portugal he was known as ‘Monteiro dos Milhões’ – Monteiro of the Millions.

The Italian architect Luigi Mannini was hired to design the present palace in the neo-manueline style (named after King Manuel, 1495-1521). Monteiro lived in the Reinassance House in the grounds whilst supervising the counstruction of the palace which began in 1905. Exotic plants and trees were imported from Brazil.

Mannini had come to Portugal in 1879 to design the Lisbon São Carlos Opera House. His most notable work was the Buçaco Palace Hotel in 1888 before he undertook the Quinta da Regaleira. Monteiro’s ideas blended with his own and together they worked to produce this palace.

Several feet away from the main palace is the Chapel of Holy Trinity, the first of the buildings constructed in 1904. Mannini employed artesans from Coimbra for the Buçaco Palace and the same people worked at Regaleira but also included artesans from Sintra. The Chapel is small, with a main altar. The walls have murals and venetian mosaic and stained glass are other decorations here. A stairway leads down to the cript, a simple room with a main altar in the same position as the one above. Here and throughout the estate one sees influences of Christianity and the Order of the Templars as well as Masonic and mythology scenes.

Statues of gods and goddesses, benches with mythological scenes, and paintings and sculptures of animals, all representing some legend, are depicted.

The property was always in private hands, the first Francisco Alberto Guimarães de Castro acquired the land in 1715 when it was known as Quinta da Torre, after the Tower in the grounds. In 1800 it was purchased by João António Lopes Fernandes and in 1830 by Manuel Bernardo. In 1840 the Quinta was purchased by Ermelinda Allen Monteiro de Almeida (1768-1856), the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Porto. She was later awarded the title of Baroness of Regaleira.

Monteiro acquired the estate in 1892. He owned some land around the quinta and in 1896 bought more land from the Marquês de Praia e Monforte adding to the estate. The most recent private owner was the Japanese company Aoki Corporation that owned the Penha Longa Resort and bought it in 1987 from the heirs of Waldemar d’Orey. It was sold to the Sintra Council and is now classified as a World Heritage by UNESCO.

A highly intelligent and cultured man, Monteiro had a vast library and a passion for collecting books, shells, butterflies, antiques and clocks. He was educated at the University of Coimbra and obtained his law degree in 1871. After his death in 1920 his library was purchased by Maurice Ettinghausen in 1926 and sent to London. It was later purchased by the Magg Brothers and sold to the Washington Library of Congress. Monteiro was also chairman of the Lisbon zoo for many years.

The ground floor in the palace holds the reception rooms.  The reception rooms include a Hunting Room or the dining room, which has hunting scenes and sculptures. The Billiard Room or Monarch’s Room has paintings engraved into the wooden ceiling of the Portuguese monarchs from the first King Afonso Henriques to King João V. Monteiro was a monarchist and proud national so the Spanish monarchs who ruled during the invasion between 1580 to 1640 were omitted.

A guided tour of the estate of this fascinating mixture of charm and mythology lasts one and a half hours, taking you from the gardens, through ponds, grottoes, the Initiation Well and tower ending with a visit to the palace. The Iniciation Well follows masonic rituals and has nine levels with steps leading down to the botton which has a templar cross. Halfway across a tunnel leads into another level in the garden.

A recent addition is the display room of Masonic artifacts.

To view the Quinta da Regaleira bookings should be made in advance. Open 10am to 5.30pm. Further details at Tel: +351-21-9106650. Rua Barbosa du Bocage, 5, Sintra.

Pat Rodrigues