Welcome to Part 5 of my series of photographs (and travel tips) from my three week trip to Portugal (with my daughter Miranda) back in December 2022 – January 2023 (and yes, I know it’s May!). I think the timing of these posts are just right for anyone looking for an overseas destination this summer. If so, you really can’t go wrong with Portugal.
My first post in this series featured images from our visit to the Belém District in Lisbon and two of Portugal’s most visited attractions, the Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery (both UNESCO World Heritage Sites). My second post was for the art lovers, Lisbon’s engrossing contemporary and modern art museum, Museu Coleção Berardo. Our visit to one of the worlds most captivating castles, Pena Palace in Sintra (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), made up the third post in this series and my last post in this series featured images from the Castelo dos Mouros, also in Sintra.
Today’s post keeps us in Sintra for a look at the magical Quinta da Regaleira.
The land that is now Quinta da Regaleira had many owners over the years. It belonged to the Viscountess of Regaleira, a family of wealthy merchants from Porto, when it was sold in 1892 for 25,000 réis (about $5,000 USD). Its new owner? Eccentric millionaire António Augusto de Carvalho Monteiro (1848-1920), an etymologist with a great love for lyrical poetry. He had a true passion for the natural sciences and dedicated many years of his life studying the insects of Brazil and Europe. He also had the second largest lepidopteran collection (butterflies and moths) in the world (cue “Goodbye Horses”!).
Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies so he commissioned Italian architect and scenographer Luigi Manini (1848-1936) to design the palace. The culture and creativity of these two personalities resulted in an eclectic-revivalist architectural ensemble, with a particular focus on the Manueline, Renaissance, Medieval and Classical styles.
The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910. The estate was later sold in 1942 to artist and sculptor Waldemar d’Orey, who used it as private residence for his extensive family. In 1987, the estate was sold, once again, to the Japanese Aoki Corporation and ceased to serve as a residence. The corporation kept the estate closed to the public for ten years until it was acquired by the Sintra Town Council in 1997. Extensive restoration efforts were promptly initiated throughout the estate. It finally opened to the public in June 1998 and began hosting cultural events. It was later classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”.
But it’s not just the haunting Palácio da Regaleira (palace) that makes the Quinta so alluring, the gardens are incredibly ornate. Set on a hillside, a multitude of fountains, grottoes, statues, caves, and ponds are connected both above ground via lovely paths and by a series of underground tunnels lit by strings of Christmas lights. It’s a beautifully bizarre wonderland where you can easily spend hours.
The Quinta da Regaleira was “just” a ten minute walk from our hotel, the Sintra Boutique Hotel located right in the heart of Sintra’s historic district. But like the rest of Portugal, there are no easy walks – it’s up one hill then down another then up another. Not a place for those with bad backs or wobbly knees; and wearing a really good pair of walking shoes is a must. My choice was the KEEN Men’s Targhee 3 Waterproof Hiking Shoes which can more than handle rough terrain (not to mention give me the traction to get up and down those damn hills!)
Tickets can be purchased online at the Quinta da Regaleira website (tickets range from 6€ – 11€ depending on your age) and should you be visiting during peak tourist season, it’s highly recommended to purchase your ticket online to avoid standing on a long line. You can purchase a ticket with a guided tour (23€) or download a map HERE and go your own way. Park opens at 10am and closes at 6:30pm with last entry at 5:30pm. And again, prepare to do a lot of walking up and down hills.
The Initiation Well is, perhaps, one of the most famous attractions in all of Sintra. Its mysterious design, without any clear purpose, is a source of fascination. These wells never actually served as water sources. Instead, they were purportedly used for ceremonial purposes.
The well contains a 27-metre spiral staircase with 23 small niches on the side. The nine flights of stairs could be linked to the Knights Templar, a military order of the Catholic faith that were founded circa 1119. The Templars were initially a group of nine knights who lived in Jerusalem after the First Crusade. They might also symbolize the nine circles of Hell from Dante’s Inferno. At the bottom of the well is an inland stone compass with the Templar cross. Other references may be to Freemasonry, which evolved from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders of the Middle Ages, a secret, ritualistic, oath-bound society devoted to fellowship and moral discipline.
Carvalho Monteiro was possibly an initiate of the Knights Templar, which disbanded in the 1300’s. However, groups like the Freemasons revived their rituals and traditions hundreds of years later. It is believed that initiations at Quinta da Regaleira began with blindfolded candidates entering the well. They purportedly held a sword close to their heart and descended the nine flights of stairs. Once they reached the bottom of the well, they walked into a dark labyrinth and needed to find their way up towards the light then to the chapel, where they were welcomed into the brotherhood (or buried somewhere on the grounds if they failed?)
As you descend the Initiation Well, you enter an extensive and enigmatic system of tunnels, the Gruta do Oriente, which have multiple entry points that include grottoes, the chapel, Waterfall Lake, and “Leda’s Cave,” which lies beneath the Regaleira Tower.
Doing my best James Dean by the Fonte da Abundância (Fountain of Abundance)
The Capela da Santíssima Trindade (Chapel of the Holy Trinity) is a Roman Catholic chapel that stands in front of the palace’s main façade and mimics the architecture of the palace. The interior of the chapel is richly decorated with frescoes, stained glass windows and lavish stuccoes.
Snazzy little bench between the chapel and the palace…
Main entrance to the palace…
The interior of the palace is decorated with period furniture and painted walls and features a brief pictorial history of the Quinta. It also offers some luscious views of the grounds…
A palace gotta have a gazebo, yes?
After visiting the palace, it was time to find a tuk-tuk to get us to our next stop – the Palacio de Monserrate, the most visually striking building of Sintra. So SUBSCRIBE HERE to not miss it (or any future post from our trip), you won’t be sorry. Promise.